Today’s Teens Are Having Safer Sex, Thanks to Effective Education

The CDC has released a new report showing that fewer teens are reporting sexual activity. And, encouragingly, when they do have sexual relationships, the majority of these young people are using protection.

Pulling data from the National Survey of Family Growth for male and female teens between the ages of 15 and 19, CDC officials attempted to gauge rates of sexual activity and contraceptive habits. The investigation window spans from 2011 to 2015 and also incorporates select information from other national data pools, including the 1995 National Survey of Adolescent Males, to give context and comparison for current trends.

Ongoing since 1988, this annual research is crucial because it gives officials the ability to gauge the proportion of teens who are having sex and, most importantly, how they are safeguarding their health.

We know that the U.S. has a far higher teen pregnancy rate than similar nations, though that has fallen substantially in recent years. And like other Western nations, the U.S. is grappling with STIs and their resulting health complications.

In this report, researchers found that teen sexual activity is actually on a downward trend.

Between 2011 and 2015, just over 42 percent of never-married female teenagers — about four million — and 44 percent of never-married male teenagers — 4.4 million — reported that they had engaged in sexual intercourse. Long-term trends appear to corroborate that the 2011-2015 figures represent a meaningful decline in rates of teenagers who report having sex.

This wasn’t the most interesting aspect of this research, however. One other key finding was that young women are increasingly using contraceptives to safeguard their sexual health and prevent pregnancy.

Female teenagers using contraception in their first reported sexual encounter went up from 74.5 percent in 2002 to 81 percent in the 2011-2015 period. Male teenagers haven’t experienced the same increase in condom use, but that rate has remained relatively stable at nearly 77 percent between 2011 and 2015 — down a few points from the near 80 percent between 2006 and 2010.

In the age of online hook-up apps that can easily facilitate sexual encounters at first-meeting, another surprising aspect to emerge from the data was that relatively few teenagers report having sex with someone they’d not met before, at just two percent for girls and seven percent for boys. It will be interesting to see if that trend changes when researchers examine retrospectives for the 2016-2020 period in a few years time.

The report included some alarming findings, however. For example, among the most popular forms of birth control was “withdrawal” or “pulling out.”

As Planned Parenthood and every reputable sexual health clinic will attest, this is not a reliable method for preventing pregnancy, and it does nothing to prevent STIs. The ineffective method’s popularity among teens may be tied to a lack of sexual health education — something that experts say is key to preventing teen pregnancy and STIs.

Nicole Cushman, of the sexual education training organization Answer, characterizes these findings for CNN as positive and a testament to responsible young people:

This new data really confirms the continuation of trends that we’ve been seeing for many years now in teen sexual health. My take-away message from these trends over the years is that young people are doing a great job at making responsible decisions about their sexual health. I think it really shows that when we equip young people with the knowledge and the skills to protect their sexual health, they’re capable of making decisions best for them.

Cushman highlights the pressing need to equip young people with accurate and bias-free advice on sexual health. For example, the CDC report notes that “Prevalence estimates suggest that one in four sexually active adolescent females has an STI, such as chlamydia or human papillomavirus (HPV),” both of which can have serious repercussions for adult fertility.

Furthermore, LGBTQIA people often do not receive the education they need to make informed choices about sexual health, leading some to engage in sexually risky behavior that can mean contracting HIV and other infections.

The main message from this report is as follows: If we give young people the tools they need in order to make informed decisions, the majority will act responsibly.

It is up to us, then, to recognize that age-appropriate sex education must be funded over failed abstinence-only programs at the national, state and local level. A failure to do so lets our children down and exposes them to sexual health risks that are easily preventable.

Photo Credit: Elizabeth Tsung/Unsplash


Marie W
Marie Wabout a month ago

Thanks for sharing.

Melania Padilla
Melania P5 months ago

Exactly, education, education, and more education.

FOTEINI horbou6 months ago

in big states like New York I believe that have an affection. However, in states like Kentucky or smaller ones still work need to be done.

Peggy B
Peggy B6 months ago


heather g
heather g6 months ago

Seems to be the 'in' thing to do with many tragic results.

Margie F
Margie FOURIE6 months ago

Teens nowadays are starting so much earlier, so thank goodness for the fact that they are having safer sex.

ERIKA S6 months ago


Leanne K
Leanne K6 months ago


ERIKA S6 months ago


Angeles Madrazo
Angeles M6 months ago

Great beginning! Thank you