A new national survey finds that significantly more teenaged males are using condoms when they have sex for the first time.
Since 2002, there has been an increase of 9 percentage points in young males who reported using a condom the first time they had sex, with 80 percent now taking that precaution. There was also an increase of 6 percentage points in males using a condom in tandem with their female partner using a hormonal method of birth control.
Teenaged girls also showed some changes in contraception use: 2 percent used a hormonal method of birth control other than the Pill in 2002, while 6 percent said they made that choice by 2010. The alternate methods included contraceptive patches, injectable devices and emergency contraceptives.
Coupled with statistics that show a continuing trend toward slightly less sexual activity overall among youths aged 14 to 19, it did not surprise the researchers that teen birth rates have again dropped.
"That helps explain why the teen birth rate has lowered," said survey author Gladys Martinez, a statistician with the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics. In 2009, the teen birth rate hit an historic low of 39.1 births per 1,000 teenaged females, a 37 percent decrease from a peak rate of 61.8 births per 1,000 teenaged females in 1991.
But, she said, there are still troubling numbers in the report, which was released Wednesday.
"Black males still have higher levels of sexual experience than white and Hispanic males, and Hispanics have lower levels of contraceptive use," she noted.
The findings come in the results of a 2006-10 survey of adults and children, including 4,662 teenagers. Forty-three percent of females who`d never been married said they`d had sex at least once, compared with 42 percent of males. Those numbers are roughly the same as they were in a 2002 survey.
It`s not clear why some of the sexually active teens don`t use contraceptives since the survey didn`t ask that question, Martinez said, although future research will ask about that.
The surveys did ask the teens who didn`t have sex why they avoided it. The most common reason was that it was against their religion or morals; 41 percent of the females in that group said that was their most important reason, compared with 31 percent of males.
There wasn`t much difference compared to 2002 in the percentage of teens who said they`d be at least somewhat pleased if a sexual encounter resulted in a pregnancy: 13 percent of females and 19 percent of males said they`d be a "little pleased" or "very pleased."
The findings suggest that the dip in sexual activity that began in the 1990s hasn`t reversed itself, said Jennifer Manlove, a senior research scientist with Child Trends, a non-profit research organization that focuses on children and families. On the other hand, she said, "we`re no longer seeing the big declines in sexual activity that we saw in the 1990s."
Researchers speculate that the big dip in sexual activity that occurred in that decade may have had something to do with the AIDS epidemic or an increased focus on abstinence in sex education, she said.
She said that while the new numbers about contraceptive use are promising, "there`s still room to improve," especially when it comes to consistent use of birth control. Considering the role of the Pill and other medical devices, she said, "doctors need to focus on finding the right method that works for females, and keep them on the more effective methods [once] they are sexually active."