Rate of Teenagers Engaging in Sex Declines

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The percentage of teenagers who are engaging in sex has decreased--the first such dip since 1970--after rising steadily for more than two decades, according to a federal survey.

In the 1995 "National Survey of Family Growth," released this month by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, researchers found that 50 percent of 15- to 19-year-old females said that they'd had sexual intercourse, down from 55 percent in 1990.

A separate HHS survey also found that the proportion of never-married boys ages 15 to 19 who said they were sexually active declined from 60 percent in 1988 to 55 percent in 1995.

Researchers also discovered that sexually active teenagers are using contraceptives more than they have in the past. Increased contraceptive use, specifically condoms, and fewer sexually active teenagers overall are the two main reasons fewer teenagers are having children, researchers say.

The birthrate among teenagers has leveled off in recent years after climbing steadily, earlier federal studies have shown. HHS recently reported an 8 percent drop in the teenage birthrate between 1991 and 1995.

At a conference in Los Angeles this month, HHS Secretary Donna E. Shalala said that while the new statistics are encouraging, the high teenage birthrate is still a great concern.

"We welcome the news that the long-term increase in teenage sexual activity may finally have stopped," Ms. Shalala said in a statement. "But this news should encourage us to do more, not lull us into doing less."

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