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Teenage Girls' Sexual Activity Said To Rise Sharply

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The sexual activity of teenage girls increased greatly throughout the 1980's, especially among white girls from middle- and upper-income families, according to a new study.

The study found that the percentage of girls ages 15 to 19 who reported having sex jumped from 47.1 percent in 1982 to 53.2 percent in 1988. For girls between 15 and 17, the percentage climbed from 32 percent to 38 percent over the period.

The study also found that in 1988, 58 percent of sexually active teenage girls reported having had two or more sexual partners.

The study, which was conducted by researchers at the Alan Guttmacher Institute, an organization associated with Planned Parenthood, analyzed data from surveys of approximately 8,000 women ages 15 to 44 by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The researchers found "striking changes" in patterns of teenage sexuality over the six years.

The biggest increase in sexual activity during the period was among white, middle-income girls, the study found, narrowing previous differences by income, race, and ethnicity.

In both study years, about 60 percent of black girls ages 15 to 19 were sexually active, the report says. But 52.4 percent of white girls this age were having sex in 1988, up from 44.5 percent in 1982. Among Hispanic girls, the level of sexual activity dropped to 48.5 percent in 1988, down from 50.6 percent in 1982.

Although lower-income girls ages 15 to 19 were more likely to be sexually experienced than were girls from middle- and upper-income families in both years, the gap between these groups began to narrow. About 56 percent of girls from families that earned less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level were active in both study years. In contrast, 50.1 percent of girls from families that earned more than 200 percent of the poverty level were having sex in 1988, up from 39.7 percent in 1982.

Besides being more sexually active, teenage girls more often reported using contraceptives. In 1982, the report states, 48 percent of girls ages 15 to 19 reported using contraceptives during their first intercourse. By 1988, that figure grew to 65 percent, almost entirely the result of increased condom use, the researchers write.

Because more girls were using contraception, the report says, the teenage-pregnancy rate for the period remained essentially unchanged, at about 127 per 1,000 teenagers.

The study appeared in the September/October issue of the institute's Family Planning Perspectives.--EF

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