Teens today are more wary of casual sex and the possibility of contracting AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases than they were in the recent past, the non-profit group reports. These factors have helped lead more teens to choose abstinence and has encouraged increased contraceptive use among sexually active teens, the group says.
In a related report last week, the government's National Center for Health Statistics said the teen pregnancy rate for women aged 15 to 19 declined 19 percent from 1991 to 1997, the most recent year for which data is available. That trend reversed an 11 percent increase in teen pregnancies from 1986 to 1991.
The government report said that the number of sexually experienced teens stabilized in the mid-1990s after having increased steadily throughout the 1970s and 1980s. It too credited abstinence campaigns for the decline in teen pregnancy, as well as finding that more teenagers are likely to use contraceptives the first time they have sex.
The economic prosperity of the 1990s also may have played a role in reducing teen pregnancy rates, the National Campaign's report suggests. Stephanie Ventura, co-author of the government report, backed up that conclusion. She said studies over time have shown that teens from higher-income families are less likely to engage in risky sexual behavior.
"The fact that the economy was so strong may have given all teenagers the idea that it's important to finish school, get a good job, and then start a family after all those things have been taken care of," said Ventura, a demographer for the National Center for Health Statistics.
Even so, the United States has the highest rates of teen pregnancy among the world's industrialized countries, according to the National Campaign's report. The five-year old organization's goal is to reduce the teen pregnancy rate by one-third between 1996 and 2005.
Its report says that most pregnant teens are 18 or 19 years old -- 40 percent are 17 or younger. More than three-fourths of all teen pregnancies are unintended and out of wedlock. More than half of the pregnancies result in birth, and very few of those babies are put up for adoption. Of the rest, 30 percent are terminated by abortion; 14 percent end in miscarriage.
"The three conventional reasons for teen pregnancies are that teens either don't know enough, they don't have access to contraception or they have access to contraception but they may not use that access," said Isabel Sawhill, president of the National Campaign.
Though the survey shows teen sexual perceptions are changing, they retain a certain amount of ambivalence. For example, the report states that 50 percent of America's high school students have had sex, even though nearly 75 percent of the teens responding to the survey agreed teens should not have sex.
The group cites this ambivalence as a major reason for unintended pregnancy. Teens are ambivalent about pregnancy, confused about preventing it, and often fail to make a clear commitment to abstinence or contraception.
"Any ambivalence in teens leads to high-risk behavior and pregnancy," said Sarah Brown, director of the National Campaign. "We find a lot of kids in the country are not on the train. They don't have the motivation to prevent pregnancy."
The campaign also cited a need to strengthen the sense of sexual responsibility in teen-age males. Most females said that they feel pressure to have sex from their significant others, but most males said their friends pressured them to seek sex.
(c) 2001, Knight Ridder. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.
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