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CDC Releases New Survey Results on Teen Sex, Condom & Contraception Use

June 5, 2008

Tomorrow’s edition of the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report presents findings from a 2007 survey of U.S. adolescents on issues such as sexual activity, seat belt use, smoking and drinking, and violence. The full report and methods take a little time to wade through, but here are some of the findings. Keep in mind that these are teenagers self-reporting these events and behaviors, and so social barriers to being 100% truthful must be considered.

-7.8% of students had ever been physically forced to have sexual intercourse.
-47.8% of students had ever had sexual intercourse (with 7.1% having first had sex prior to age 13, and 14.9% reporting having had sex with 4 or more persons).
-35% were considered currently sexually active (intercourse with at least one person during the 3 months before the survey, considered “sexually active” by the survey methodology).
-61.5% of sexually active teens reported having used a condom the last time they had sex (so 38.5% didn’t use a condom). Condom use declined as students progressed from 9th to 12th grade.
-16% reported that either they or their partner had used birth control pills prior to last having sex to prevent pregnancy. Pill use increased as students progressed from 9th to 12 grade.
-89.5% had ever been taught in school about HIV/AIDS.

The Washington Post reports that:

The survey found a slight increase between 2005 and 2007 of the proportion who reported they had ever had sex, had begun having sex before age 13, had engaged in sex within the last three months and had had sex with at least four partners.

They note, however, that this is not yet statistical evidence of an upward trend, but that “statisticians found that every measure of sexual activity passed the statistical test for having leveled off between 2001 and 2007, and the condom use numbers passed the test for leveling off beginning in 2003.” One spokesperson quoted for the piece explained, “The bottom line is, in all these areas, we don’t seem to be making the progress we were making before.”

Some headlines have simplified this report to something like, “risk behavior in U.S. teens continues to decline.” The CDC report actually reports mixed decrease and lack of real change, depending on the behavior examined.

Although the report describes a “significant linear decrease” in the percent of students who had ever had sex from 1991-2007, a look at the CDC’s own data for those years supports the leveling off description, having stayed nearly the same since 2001.

The CDC describes the percent of those who are currently sexually active with the same “significant linear decrease” language. Although the 2007 percentage (35.0%) is lower than in 1991 (37.5%), 2007 is actually higher than ’05, ’03, ’01, or ’97. For you statistics nerds, you can view the fairly overlapping confidence intervals online in this table. In other words, there hasn’t been much real change recently.

As the CDC itself notes, “The percentage of sexually active students who used a condom at last sexual intercourse increased during 1991–2003 (46.2%–63.0%) and then did not change significantly during 2003–2007 (63.0%–61.5%).”

More detail and 1991-2007 data for all of the survey’s measures is available online.

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