NEW YORK, NY — More than half of U.S. teenagers have had sex by age 18 and virtually all sexually experienced teens (more than 99%) have used some form of birth control, based on data from 2011-2015 in a report released today from the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS).

“Sexual Activity and Contraceptive Use Among Teenagers in the United States: 2011-2015,” is a report on the most recent data analysis from the National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG), conducted by NCHS. The data are weighted to represent all teens in the U.S. and were derived from interviews with 4,134 male and female teens 15-19 years of age over the period 2011 through 2015.

“This report shows that America’s teens are responsible about their sexual behavior.  Sex education in middle schools and high schools, and access to services for sexually active teens, are critical to helping teens stay healthy and reach their life goals,” said Dr. Leslie Kantor, Vice President of Education at Planned Parenthood Federation of America. “By the time they are seniors in high school, most U.S. teens will be sexually active. All teens need to have the education, resources, and skills they need to make responsible, informed decisions. However, teens are not necessarily using the most effective forms of birth control, and there are disparities in the use of effective birth control among teens, which lead to higher rates of unintended pregnancy.”

Today’s report shows:

  • Virtually all sexually experienced female teens have used some method of contraception. There was an increase in the rate of contraception use among female teens since 2002, from 97.7% to 99.4% in 2011-2015.

  • For the majority of teens their first sexual intercourse was with someone with whom they were “going steady” (female teens: 74%; male teens: 51%). Only a small percentage of teens had their first sexual intercourse with someone they had “just met” (female teens: 2%; male teens: 7%).

“Adolescents have a right to the education and services they need to make healthy decisions and live fulfilling lives,” said Dr. Kantor. “The United States is at historic lows in pregnancy and birth rates among U.S. teens, which we know is due mainly to increased use of contraception.  At Planned Parenthood, we provide high quality sex education to more than 1.5 million young people every year in communities and to millions more through our website, digital tools for teens and national chat/text program.  We encourage people to use both effective methods of birth control and condoms, so that they can prevent both unintended pregnancy and STDs.”

Concerning Contraceptive Use:

  • Condoms remained the most commonly used birth control method among teens in 2011-2015 (reported by 97% of teen females), followed by withdrawal (60% ) and the pill (56%).

  • Teens who report that they would be upset about getting pregnant are more likely to use contraception than those who say they would be pleased, reinforcing previous research on pregnancy ambivalence which underlies Planned Parenthood's digital tools— encouraging young people to set goals and think about if, or when, they want to have children.  

Other findings include:

  • Among teen females aged 15-19, 42% reported having ever had sex; among teen males, the percent was 44%.

  • Among younger teens, males are more likely to have had sex than females but by age 17, the probability of having sexual intercourse was similar for males and females.  By age 18, 55% of both males and females have had sex.

  • Among those teens who had not yet had sex, the most common reasons for abstaining were: “it was against religion or morals,” and “haven’t found the right person yet.

“Planned Parenthood is committed to providing accurate, relevant sexual health information to as many young people as possible, no matter who or where they are,” said Kantor. “Technology has created new opportunities for us to reach people in different ways, and we’re continually looking for innovative approaches to get people the information and care they need to stay healthy and reach their life goals -- whether that’s in schools and communities, on their phone, online, or in a health center.”

Planned Parenthood’s innovative digital education tools are designed to help young people stay safe and healthy — no matter where they are — and include:

  • Planned Parenthood’s series of digital education tools for middle- and high school-aged young people build decision-making skills around relationships to prevent both unintended pregnancy and STDs— including helping teens set goals around if/when children fit into their life plan, resisting peer pressure to have sex, drink, or use drugs, and learning about birth control methods when they are thinking about becoming sexually active.

  • Consent 101, a Webby Award-winning video series designed to help young people understand consent and sexual assault

  • A video series on communicating about STDs, getting tested, and using protection

  • Planned Parenthood’s Chat/Text program enables young people to have conversations with trained educators in real time via text message or IM about birth control, emergency contraception, pregnancy, and STDs, allowing them to get critical information about sexual health when they need it, no matter where they are. The program has had over 700,000 conversations since it began in 2010.

As the nation’s largest provider of sex education, Planned Parenthood works in schools and communities across the country to provide outstanding sex education programs. Evidence-based sex education programs can help teens delay sex, use condoms and birth control when they do have sex, reduce the number of sexual partners, and reduce the frequency of sex. Sex education is supported by the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics — and by a majority of Americans, including more than 90 percent of parents.

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Planned Parenthood is the nation’s leading provider and advocate of high-quality, affordable health care for women, men, and young people, as well as the nation’s largest provider of sex education. With more than 600 health centers across the country, Planned Parenthood affiliates serve all patients with care and compassion, with respect and without judgment. Through health centers, programs in schools and communities, and online resources, Planned Parenthood is a trusted source of reliable health information that allows people to make informed health decisions. We do all this because we care passionately about helping people lead healthier lives.