Teens Are Taking More Reliable Birth Control

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Written By Robby Macaay

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The teen birth rate in the U.S. has been declining consistently for more than 30 years, despite the fact that the number of teenage girls having sex has not changed since at least 2002. A new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests a key driver of this trend: a dramatic increase in teenage girls using long-lasting and reliable forms of contraception.

The percentage of girls ages 15 to 19 using long-acting reversible contraception, which includes intrauterine devices (IUDs) and contraceptive implants, reached a reported high of 19% from 2015-2019. That’s more than three times the rate at which they were used from 2011-2015. 

Long-lasting birth control can be up to 20 times as effective as birth control pills and other hormonal contraceptive options like the NuvaRing over time, and they can offer years of protection. “Public health focuses on these because they’re easy to use,” says Joyce Amba, a social scientist at the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics and co-author of the report. “They don’t require a daily regimen like a pill and they’re very effective.” But for many teens, and even women, they can be the most difficult methods of birth control to access. Insurance coverage for teens looking to have an IUD or implant placed can be spotty, and the placement procedures mean that physician visits are more intensive than the consultations other methods require and more difficult to afford for teens without parental consent.

Read More: Why Everyone Is Having Bad Sex (Especially Young People)

Despite the barriers, the increasing popularity of these methods suggests that access to and knowledge about them are improving. One likely reason why is the growing public support for comprehensive sex education over time, which—despite being in danger in 2023—grew more common in schools throughout the 2010s. Overall, teens use more varied methods of contraception than they did when the CDC established its current survey methods in 2002, including emergency contraception, which went from being used by 8% of girls ages 15 to 19 in 2011-2015 to 22% of girls in 2015-2019. A similar increase occurred in the share of teens who reported using more than one contraceptive method, which reflects that teens may be more aware of their choices than they used to be.

The data in the new report only go up to 2019, and Amba says that it’s still too early to know how trends may have continued or changed beyond that year—including how they may have been affected by the political battles over contraceptive access that have begun since the Supreme Court overturned the federal right to abortion in 2022. According to separate smaller surveys and information shared by clinics including Planned Parenthood, the Supreme Court’s decision led to a significant increase in teens and women of all ages seeking long-lasting contraceptive methods. “The data in the future will be very interesting,” Amba says. 

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