Less Underage Sex, Fewer Teen Pregnancies


For decades, American parents and policy makers have fretted about the sexual proclivities of American teenagers. Now that studies suggest a slight upward trend in the average age of first sexual encounter, alarmists have found a way to twist this into cause for concern, too.

"Some observers are beginning to wonder whether an unambiguously good thing might have roots in less salubrious developments," The Atlantic's Kate Julian wrote in December. "Signs are gathering that the delay in teen sex may have been the first indication of a broader withdrawal from physical intimacy that extends well into adulthood."

Put more simply: Along with suffering from gnat-like attention spans and increasing levels of narcissism, internet-addicted young people have allegedly lost their desire—and perhaps ability—to physically connect.

But there's little good data to support these pessimistic theories. Adults should stop worrying about whether and when teens are having sex and look instead at the big (and positive!) teen sex picture.

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), teen sex rates may be down, but among those who are having sex, use of condoms, emergency contraception pills, and other forms of birth control is up. Meanwhile, teen parenthood rates—a strong predictor of depressed wages, unstable relationships, and a host of other undesirable outcomes—have dropped steadily and significantly since the 1990s.

The birth rate for U.S. teenagers aged 15–19 "fell almost continuously since 1991, reaching historic lows for the nation every year since 2009," the CDC reported in 2016. In 2015, there were about 22.3 births per 1,000 girls in this age group. By 2017, the number had dipped to 18.8 per 1,000. The drop could be seen across racial, ethnic, and geographic lines.

Among younger girls, births were also at record lows. The birth rate for females aged 10–14 was at 0.2 per 1,000 females in 2016, down from 0.9 in 2000, according to the CDC. That's 2,253 births compared to 8,519.

The emergence of fewer teen moms helps tell another fertility story, this one also likely to be misinterpreted by those intent on finding doom in all developments. Conventional wisdom holds that women are waiting longer to become mothers. While that's true, it's not the whole story. The mean age at first birth did rise from 24.9 years old in 2000 to 26.3 years old in 2014. But this primarily stems from a decline in births at the youngest end of the spectrum rather than a massive increase in older first-time moms.

"The largest factor in the rise in mean age at first birth is the decline in the proportion of first births to mothers under age 20, down 42% from 2000 to 2014, or from approximately 1 in 4 births to 1 in 7," the CDC reported.

Abortion rates among teens—and indeed among all age groups of U.S. women—are also down. For 15- to 19-year-olds, the abortion rate rose to around 4 percent in the mid-1980s but has been dropping now for three decades. By 2013, it was at about 1 percent.

According to a study from the nonprofit Guttmacher Institute, the decline in teen births can be attributed both to young people waiting longer to have sex—the bulk of the explanation for falling teen pregnancy in the '90s and early '00s—and to increased contraceptive use, which accounts for more of the post-2003 drop.

"Concerns about AIDS led to changes in perceptions about condoms and increases in condom use," Guttmacher notes. Its National Survey of Family Growth, conducted with Columbia University, found that "condom use at last sex among females aged 15–19 increased from 38% in 1995 to 52% in 2006–2010; among males, condom use at last sex increased steadily, from 64% in 1995 to 75% in 2006–2010."

The kids are having sex later in life and doing it more safely. Only in a culture of constant and irrational worry could this be seen as a bad thing.

NEXT: Brickbat: Sore Loser

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  1. So they are trying to heavily regulate something that isn't really a problem to begin with. That's the State for ya

  2. Imagine that! Next up: old-timey law of cause and effect revisited: could there be something to it after all?

  3. No one has ever gone broke overestimating the extent to which adults panic themselves over what other peoples’ children are up to.

    If the next trend among teens was to be total abstinence from drugs and alcohol, we’d be seeing scare stories about how that was a national crisis.

    1. Heck, remember how all the proggies were freaking out over schools promoting abstinence as a means of birth control?

      1. Looking at you, Alyssa.

      2. Places where they have real sex education mentioning real birth control other than just abstinence have lower teen pregnancy rates. Abstinence works, but "abstinence only" sex education is not effective.

        1. But abstinence only sex ed was virtually non-existent in public schools. The freakout was over sex ed that listed abstinence as an option.

          1. Go fuck yourself Jesus freak.

            1. Here's Tony to bless this thread with his special kind of hate-filled stupid.
              Apparently the go to solution for Buddhists, Zoroastrians, gamers and basement atheists everywhere, makes you a Jesus Freak.

              Go fuck yourself, Tony.

    2. No news outlet ever made it with stories such as "Sun Shines Today, People Smile, It's All Good."

  4. To the original author of the source story, 5% of your readers know what salubrious means. You should pick another word. I read that and laughed.

    As for the drop in abortions, maybe they are having anal sex.

    1. More like 50% of Reason readers know what salubrious means. And I often feel lugubrious thinking about how, if only there were more people out there who knew and appreciated big words like that, they’d also appreciate big words like liberty, individuality, and self-sufficiency.

      1. I LOVE working in lugubrious!

      2. Its a vampire discipline duh

      3. "If you are gonna have anal sex, kids, make sure to be lugubrious about it!"

        1. No, you have to use lugubrious. Lots and lots of lugubrious.

      4. And I often feel lugubrious thinking about how, if only there were more people out there who knew and appreciated big words like that

        Tim Cavanaugh is no longer with Reason.

        1. His name sounded too close to Brett Kavanaugh for Reason's comfort.

    2. More like 50% of Reason readers probably know what salubrious means. And I often feel lugubrious thinking about how, if only there were more people out there who knew and appreciated big words like that, they might also appreciate big words like liberty, individuality, and self-sufficiency.

      1. So if I know [without looking it up] what being overly wordy means, I'm only a Fifty percenter?

      2. More than 50% of Reason readers prefer anal sex.

    3. Hey I'm a Five percenter!

      That there liberal arts ed-u-men-cation done me some good after all.

      1. Way to assume that gender...

    1. Abstinence works.

  5. "Abortion rates among teens—and indeed among all age groups of U.S. women—are also down."

    Now that cannot possibly be a good thing, and may likely be the real reason for concern here. How can you be truly progressive and all embracing of what society has to offer you if you don't have an abortion or two?

    1. I'm waiting for Beto to livestream his.

      1. Will Schwarzenegger make a cameo?

    2. Why do you need new more radical anti-abortion laws when abortion rates are already going down? Better access to birth control and more video games will do it.

    3. I suppose being HIV positive would also secure your status.

  6. Teens don't want to drive. Makes sense they'd find sex "yucky" and engage in less of it.

    And with all the "lgbtq" and "tranny" madness, conventional sex is out the window.

    1. I doubt it. Some education about STDs and various other horrible things that can happen to promiscuous people may have some effect... but I doubt that too.

      My guess is that the internet connecting people over large distances has something to do with this. They might be responding to some of the mistakes that they've seen the older generations make, too. I hear that Gen-Z is very big on saving/financial planning. I bet that is a reaction to the poor fiscal choices of the generations before them.

    2. You can't get pregnant where they tell kids to stick it nowadays.

      1. The garbage disposal?

      2. Woodchipper?

      3. The light socket?

    3. I think they mostly just watch porn.

  7. Gosh in my day everyone was freaked out that teens were having too much sex!

    1. My understanding is that only the über puritans of both the religious and social varieties really cared.

      Everybody else was fine (synonymous with content to be blissfully ignorant?) with their kids necking at makeout point, fooling around behind the bleachers, or rolling in the grass out behind the barn as long as nobody came home pregnant.

      1. Well, and extreme proggie friend of mine moved to Portland and was aghast at the casual hookup culture.

        1. I'm surprised. It seems Portland has negative testosterone. But everything I know about Portland I learned from Portlandia.

      2. You worded that well. It used to be that parents were horrified if their teen daughters were having sex, and were horrified if their sons were not.

        1. So obviously they wanted their sons to have sex with each other.

  8. no backseat shenanigans if they aren't in cars or won't look up from their stupid phones

    1. Many don't even bother to get drivers' licenses anymore.

  9. More of them are getting caught sexting and put on various sex offender registries before it leads to sex. More of them are being held culpable for liabilities other than unwanted pregnancy.

    Go ahead, call me an alarmist.

    1. A bunch of high school kids near me got indicted on child pornography charges recently because they had nude pictures of their girlfriends/ex girlfriends on snapchat, and I believe they were sharing them amongst each other.

      I think they should be punished in some form, sure, but to use a law that is meant to punish the absolute worst of society and stigmatize them to the end of their days? That is pure evil.

      These aren't horrible predators as far as I can tell.. they're a bunch of dumb ass boys that need to be taught a lesson on treating their peers right and respecting people's right to privacy. The girls need to be taught not to take nude pictures of themselves or let their boyfriends take nude pictures of them.

      We live in a police state.

      1. These aren’t horrible predators as far as I can tell.. they’re a bunch of dumb ass boys that need to be taught a lesson on treating their peers right and respecting people’s right to privacy.

        Unless the boys picked up the girl's phone that had the photos and sent them to themselves without permission, fuck that noise.

        If you think teen, or even adult girls haven't or wouldn't send nude photos of themselves, regret it, and then get legally vindictive about it without any legal merit, you haven't been paying attention. In at least one local story and at least one story here on Reason it wasn't at all clear that the boy(s) had shared photos of the girl in question and/or that the sharing of any inappropriate photos wasn't consensual or even related to the girl(s) in question.

        Girls (and boys) need to be taught:
        1. Don't take nude selfies.
        2. Do. Not. Take. Nude. Selfies.
        3. If you break rules 1 and 2 don't share them with anyone ever.
        4. If you break rules 1, 2, *and* 3 you are personally responsible for any and all personal ill-effects that come from sharing such photos.

        Accusers bringing complaints against other people for sharing such photos without permission or with a lack of personal responsibility should re-read rules 1-4. Sharing or receiving photos, intentionally or accidentally, is not a crime.

        1. If you think teen, or even adult girls haven’t or wouldn’t send nude photos of themselves, regret it, and then get legally vindictive about it without any legal merit, you haven’t been paying attention.

          Not what I was saying. I think its the sharing that should get the boys in trouble -- and I see that you addressed that in the next part of your comment.

          I can agree that people should not take nude selfies, period. If you do, you should expect that one day they will be used against you by your asshole ex-partner.

          However, I am okay with punishing people for things like revenge porn. Some images taken in private are meant to remain private, distributing this stuff to your friends intentionally is behavior we should not abide. I think people should have the full distribution rights to their image when said image is taken in a private context (and the individual is not a public official or having some bearing on the general public's interest). If the partner was running around nude in public and you snapped a picture, share to your hearts content, guilt-free. It clearly wasn't meant to remain private.

          But that's just me, I'm big on privacy rights.

          1. However, I am okay with punishing people for things like revenge porn.
            Punish, probably. But such punishment should not include a life sentence on the "sexual predator" registry. Pretty much nothing should.

      2. and the police love checking teenagers' phones. should lock them up (the police).

  10. Remember how prudish policy was in Singapore? And how they then decided they'd gone too far and had to set up more dating and matchmaking opportunities?

    A big driver of childbirth and single motherhood in the USA was welfare eligibility. 40 years ago I was revolted by what I saw among the black patients in Obs-Gyn at Cook County Hospital: babies having babies; I mean families with living great-great grandparents! Unmarried pregnant teens, cheerful about it.

  11. Thanks Incels. More for me.

    I am dropping loads like the World is ending tomorrow.

    1. For millions of people, the world *does* end tomorrow.

      1. Sorry, 151,600 people.

    2. Just friendly advice LC.
      Men do not really talk like that.

      1. Men who are getting laid do and are responding to claims that men are not having as much sex as they used to.

        1. men who are getting laid don't have to talk

  12. Now that studies suggest a slight upward trend in the average age of first sexual encounter. . .

    There is only one way to study the average age of first sexual encounters; self-reporting. Studies that rely on self-reporting should always be met with skepticism because people lie and/or have different definitions of "sexual encouter". After all, Bill Clinton did not have sex with that woman. She just sucked his dick and let him jizz on her dress, but there was no coitus and therefore was not "sex".

    The proliferation of teens sexting shows that modern teens have a very liberal attitude towards nudity, sexuality, and sex. They'll lie about it to the adults because of the cultural admonition against teen sex, but they're still doin' it. The positive note is that they're better educated about the risks of sex than previous generations' teens and are being more careful/responsible.

    1. It's not easy to have sexy time with a parent hovering overhead like a Chinook.

      1. Unless you're all into it.

  13. I would doubt the veracity of the personally reported portion of the study, esp when the male and female contraceptive use are so different. Women tend to understate, men overstate the actuals, even when no one is supposed to be identifiable.

  14. "Just say Please Sign this Consent form in Triplicate and have it Notarized by the End of the Week" is hard to fit on a bumper sticker.

  15. What's wrong with all young people out there?
    Don't you know irresponsible sex is fun?
    Don't you know being pregnant (or getting someone pregnant) is a status symbol?
    Don't you young girls out there are eligible to live on Uncle Sam's plantation complete with food stamps, free housing, etc and be a good little slave like The State wants you to be?
    Now put down this damn video games and start fucking!

  16. Why would you use a picture of two males to illustrate an article about teen pregnancy?

    1. They both identify as female.

  17. Meh, it's just the Junior Anti-Sex League gearing up.

  18. Here’s my 2 cents: teenage guys are too busy gaming and whacking off to porn to care about getting laid, and teenage girls? Who knows? But my guess is that they see whats available from guys and opt for a dildo, or go the lesbo route

    1. Another factor is that, with growing acceptance of homosexuality, kids who aren't really interested in the opposite sex are no longer feeling pressured to have heterosexual intercourse in order to prove they're "normal".

      1. You are watching too much Bravo programming.

        1. Or maybe you spend too much time in western Nebraska.

    2. Boys are emasculated at every turn and women are on the rampage about sexual equality when they refuse to practice what they preach.

      Nothing more satisfying than having a limosine feminist Giving you head and begging for more.

      Some mem are just not doing it right.

  19. Ugh, condoms.

  20. Coming soon, a new age of prudishness that makes the victorian era look like an orgy.

    1. Well-there is a voluntary human extinction movement-this seems to be exactly what they want. Eventually we will reach a point where nobody has actual sex anymore, especially once humanoid whore bots arrive...

      1. Realistic virtual reality sex will happen before whorebots. Completely convincing robots will be much more difficult to create than full artificial experiences created inside your head.

  21. […] less human connection (and relationships that make up the foundation of happiness). More Exercise is increasingly being prescribed as a treatment for depression, but the trick is in […]

  22. […] Think positive, writes Elizabeth Nolan Brown in Reason. […]

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