Primary Care Corner with Geoffrey Modest MD: Teens birthrate and sexual activity/contraception use

by Geoffrey Modest

2 related articles were recently published by the CDC.

1. In the United State from 1991 to 2014 the birth rate among teens age 15 to 19 hasdeclined by a dramatic 61%from 61.8 per 1000 to 24.2 per 1000, with larger % decreases in ethnic/racial minorities (see ). However the birth rate remained approximately twice as high for Hispanic and non-Hispanic black teens compared to non-Hispanic white teens. There are also significant geographic and socioeconomic disparities. See prior blog  for the full assessment . In brief:

— from 2006 to 2014, a 41% decline in birthrate overall, to 25.4 per 1000 female teens

— Hispanic: decreasing to 39.8 per 1000, a 51% decrease from 77.4 per 1000

— Black: decreasing to 37.0 per 1000, a 44% decrease, from 61.9 per 1000

— white: decreasing to 18.0 per 1000, a 35% decrease from 26.7 per 1000

— there is large geographic variability, for example the Hispanic birthrate in 2014 varied from 17.0 per 1000 in Maine to 58.0 per 1000 in Oklahoma; Black birthrate varied from 14.0 per thousand in New Hampshire to 54.6 per thousand in Arkansas; white birthrate varied from 4.8 per 1000 in New Jersey to 39.2 per 1000 in West Virginia. And, within states, sometimes the racial disparities remain very high: eg, in Nebraska the birth rate for whites was 16.2 (approx the national average) whereas the rates for black and Hispanic (42.6 and 53.9) were far above the national average for these groups.

–and, there was a higher birth rate in those who are unemployed, have lower levels of education and lower incomes.


–as a perspective, the overall US birth rate in 2011 for 15-19 years old females was 34.0 per 1000, vs 13 per 1000 the same year in Canada. And the rate in France was 7 per 1000 and in Germany 5 per 1000.


–very dramatic changes in teen birth rate, with a narrowing of the gap for racial/ethnic minorities as compared to whites. However, as noted, the gap remains significantly discordant.

–And, I suspect, a large part of the geographic gap reflects access to and quality of care. And there are major concerns about the future: the trump administration etc are pushing for decreased Planned Parenthood (potentially leading to even less access to care/contraception for poor and minority patients, with anticipated increases in pregnancy rates, and likely maternal and fetal death rates) and even cutbacks in maternity care. For example, another blog showed that a restrictive abortion law in Texas led to an 18.2% decline in abortions; and there have been a plethora of studies linking lack of prenatal care to poorer outcomes.

–and, the overall social environment, getting worse in the trump era, no doubt will add to the problem: lower incomes, cutbacks in social programs (including perhaps health insurance), fewer safety net programs overall, and social upheaval in general (including targeting immigrants) will predictably lead to even less access to care, less sense of hope for the future, lower self-esteem, and poorer health outcomes, including pregnancy rates.


2. Another CDC article evaluated sexual activity and contraceptive use among teens aged 15-19 in the US from 2011-2015 (see,finding:


–42.4% of never-married female teens (4.0 million) and 44.2% of never-married male teens (4.4 million) had sex at least once by the time of the interview; these numbers were similar to those from 2002 and 2006-2010, though looking back to 1988 there was a decline (downward trend, with p<0.05). By ethnicity/race, from 2002 to  2011-15:

–Hispanic female: 37.4% in 2002, 41.2% in 2011-15; Hispanic male: 54.8% to 45.7%

–non-Hispanic white female: 45.1% in 2002, 44.3% in 2011-15; non-Hispanic white male: 40.8% to 42.8%

–non-Hispanic black female: 56.9% in 2002, 45.7% in 2011-15; non-Hispanic black male: 63.3% to 58.6%

–of these, the differences in females in 2011-15 were not statistically significant; though the difference/decrease in non-Hispanic black males was significantly higher than the others

–assessing sexual activity by family structure at age 14: for females, a significantly lower % were sexually experienced if they lived with both parents (36.8% vs 50.8%) and for males (39.4% vs 51.9%); for males, if their mothers gave birth to first child by age >=20 (39.3% vs 56.7% if mothers younger). Also for males, less sexually experienced if mother had at least some college vs high school diploma or GED (41.0%​ vs 46.7%)

–by age: males more likely than females to have sex younger (age 15-16). Though probabilities were the same by age 17

–partners for first sexual experience: 74.1% of females but 51.1% of males were “going steady” with their partner; 13% of females and 27.3% of males with “just friends” (the latter especially true with younger teens)

–reasons for not having sex: most common: religion/morals (35.3% of females, 27.9% of males), then “not found right person yet” 21.7% females, 28.5% males; then “don’t want to get pregnant” 19.3% females, 21.2% males

–no change from 2002 in terms of % of teens who have had sex in past 3 months, though older teens (18-19 yo) were twice as likely as those 15-17.


–female teenager use of contraception at first sex:

–increased from 74.5% in 2002 to 81.0% in 2011-15, though lowest in non-Hispanic black teens at 62%, and higher in Hispanic (79%) and non-Hispanic white (87%) teens; overall, mostly using condoms (66.4% in 2002, increasing to 74.6% in 2011-15)

–dual protection (condom plus pill) also increased significantly from 13.1% in 2002 to 18.5% in 2011-15

–overall 5.8% of females had a long-acting reversible method (IUD in 2.8% or implant in 3.0%) in 2011-2015

–male teenager use of contraception at first sex:

–condom use increased from 70.9% in 2002 to 79.6% in 2006-10 and remained stable at 76.8% in 2011-2015

–emergency contraception use has increased significantly from 2002 (8% of female teens who ever used it) to 2011-15 (23%)

–no change in ever using condoms (97%), withdrawal (60%), pills (56%), depo-medroxyprogesterone (17%)

–feelings about hypothetical pregnancy (which does correlate with risk of teen birth, pregnancy risk behaviors): in 2011-15, more females would be very upset (60.5%) vs males (46.1%)

–teens who have sex at an earlier age are not only less likely to use contraceptives at time of first sex, but also at the last sex as well.



–although there are lots of statistics above, the report has even lots more….

–it is notable that 81% of females used contraception the first time they have sex, condoms were used by 77% of males the first time they have sex

–overall trends seem to confirm some decreases in sexual activity overall and increase in contraceptive usage since 1988, aligning with the observed decrease in teen pregnancy in the early 1990s (as above). though the contraceptive use largely plateaued or only decreased slightly since 2002, the types and effectiveness of contraceptives used has changed

–there is a general trend to promote long-acting reversible contraceptives (IUDs implants) in adolescents (eg, see ), and there is dramatically increasing use of emergency contraception

–one important potential utility of all of these statistics is to help us clinicians and public health people focus on teens where the statistical predictors point to those at highest risk of not using contraceptives or becoming pregnant (eg. family and social situation, education, age of first sex, ethnicity/race…)


–but, as noted in commentary after the first article, there are real concerns about the future, especially with access to high quality, affordable care (see above)