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news release

For Immediate Release: Friday, December 10, 2004


Contraception Now "Part of Everyday Life," but Many Teens Are Uninformed and More Women are Risking Unintended Pregnancy

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services today released the 2002 National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG), a periodic nationwide survey that collects information on a range of behaviors including sexual activity, contraceptive use, pregnancy and birth among women and men aged 15–44.

"These new data underscore the fact that use of contraception in the United States today is virtually universal--a normal part of everyday life for women and men from all walks of life," says Sharon Camp, President and CEO of The Alan Guttmacher Institute (AGI). "Americans generally--and teenagers in particular--are doing more to prevent unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections, but the survey also shows that too many people of all ages still lack the information and services they need to protect themselves."

The first set of findings, which addresses sexual activity, contraceptive use and childbearing among teenagers, shows that:

  • Younger teens (aged 15–17) are less likely to have begun having sex: About three in 10 teens this age had had sex in 2002, compared with about four in 10 in 1995.
  • Sexually active teenagers of all ages were more likely to be using contraceptives in 2002 than they were in 1995.
  • Many teens are not learning about birth control in school--one-third of teens report having received no formal instruction about contraceptive methods before age 18.
  • Nor are teens getting this information from their parents: Only half of young women 18-19, and just over a third of men this age, said they had talked with a parent about birth control before they turned 18.

"It’s great that we’re seeing teens behave more responsibly, both by waiting longer to have sex and by using contraceptives," says Cynthia Dailard, AGI Senior Public Policy Associate. "But it’s quite shocking how little information they’re getting from adults about how to prevent pregnancy and disease. To make further progress, we need to do a better job ensuring that parents and teachers feel comfortable and equipped to talk to teens about these important matters."

Today’s second set of findings, which focuses on women’s use of contraception and family planning services, shows that:

  • Virtually all U.S. women who have had sex have used at least one contraceptive method (98%).
  • Most women at risk of unintended pregnancy (those who are sexually active and able to become pregnant, but do not currently wish to become pregnant) are currently using birth control.
  • Women are using new, long-lasting contraceptives introduced in recent years (such as the patch), and use of birth control pills and the IUD also increased between 1995 and 2002.
  • However, the authors highlight at least one potential area for concern: More than 4.5 million women at risk of unintended pregnancy are using no contraception at all--which represents an increase from 5.4% of all women of reproductive age in 1995 to 7.4% in 2002.

"With new, highly effective contraceptive methods available, women are better able to find one that meets their needs, which is good news," says Lawrence Finer, AGI Associate Director for Domestic Research. "But the fact that millions of women who don’t want to become pregnant are not using contraception is worrisome. Whether it means making more methods available, or ensuring better access to affordable services, or both, we need to do more to help make sure that couples have what they need to plan their families."

Dr. Camp adds, "The NSFG is a uniquely valuable data source. We are eager to dig into the findings to answer critical questions like, 'How many Americans face unintended pregnancies?' and, 'What’s behind recent teen pregnancy declines?' Our country needs this kind of reliable evidence and solid analysis to develop sound, effective public health policies and programs."

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For previous analysis from AGI on unintended pregnancy, see Unintended Pregnancy in the United States.

For previous AGI analysis on teen pregnancy declines, see Why Is Teenage Pregnancy Declining?

For the new federal survey findings, click here.