Teen Sex Rates Drop to Historic Lows, Teen Pregnancy Rates Drop 63% Since 1990

National   |   Michael New, Ph.D.   |   Oct 8, 2018   |   4:11PM   |   Washington, DC

Last week, the Guttmacher Institute released a study on recent trends in sexual activity among U.S. high school students.

The report analyzes new data from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS). It found that between 2013 and 2017, the percentage of high school students who ever had sexual intercourse fell from 47 percent to 40 percent – an all-time low in the 26-year history of the YRBS.  The report finds that there were declines in sexual activity among both genders, all grade levels, and all ethnic and racial groups. Overall, the decline in teen sexual activity that started in the early 1990s continues well into this decade. Good news.

The study also found that rates of contraceptive use among high school students remained largely unchanged during this time period; however, there was some evidence that students were shifting away from condoms and toward long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs). That said, since teen sexual activity was declining with no corresponding increase in contraceptive use, much of the recent decline in teen pregnancy rates can be explained by reductions in teen sexual activity.

However, the authors fail to use this new data to analyze recent teen pregnancy declines.  The 63 percent decline in the teen pregnancy rate since 1990 is an unheralded public policy success story which has confounded an ideologically diverse group of researchers.  New data that could help explain this phenomenon is always welcome.

All in all, this is unsurprising.  Guttmacher is quick to highlight studies that purportedly find increases in contraceptive use among teenagers, but they almost never link declines in teen pregnancy rates to reductions in teen sexual activity.

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In fact, a September 2017 Guttmacher study that analyzed long-term teen pregnancy rate trends never once even mentioned that both the YRBS and the National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG) found durable and consistent reductions in teen sexual activity since the early 1990s. The Guttmacher Institute was Planned Parenthood’s research arm and advocates greater contraception access as a strategy to reduce teen pregnancy rates. It is disappointing that Guttmacher analysts refuse to acknowledge that reductions in teen sexual activity are playing an important role in America’s teen pregnancy rate decline.

LifeNews Note: Michael J. New is an Associate Professor of Economics at Ave Maria University and an Associate Scholar at the Charlotte Lozier Institute. He is a former political science professor at the University of Michigan–Dearborn and holds a Ph.D. from Stanford University. He is a fellow at Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, New Jersey.