Teen Sex and Pregnancy
Most very young teens have not had intercourse: 8 in 10 girls and 7 in
10 boys are sexually inexperienced at age 15. 1
The likelihood of teenagers' having intercourse increases steadily
with age; however, about 1 in 5 young people do not have intercourse
Most young people begin having sex in their mid-to-late teens, about 8
years before they marry; more than half of 17-year-olds have had
While 93% of teenage women report that their first intercourse was
voluntary, one-quarter of these young women report that it was unwanted.4
The younger women are when they first have intercourse, the more
likely they are to have had unwanted or nonvoluntary first sex--7 in 10
of those who had sex before age 13, for example.5
Nearly two-thirds (64%) of sexually active 15-17-year-old women have
partners who are within two years of their age; 29% have sexual partners
who are 3-5 years older, and 7% have partners who are six or more years
Most sexually active young men have female partners close to their
age: 76% of the partners of 19-year-old men are either 17 (33%) or 18
(43%); 13% are 16, and 11% are aged 13-15.7
Sex is rare
among very young teenagers, but common in the later teenage
% who have
had sexual intercourse at different ages, 1995
1995 National Survey of Family Growth and 1995 National Survey
of Adolescent Males.
A sexually active teenager who does not use contraceptives has a 90%
chance of becoming pregnant within one year.
Teenage women's contraceptive use at first intercourse rose from 48%
to 65% during the 1980s, almost entirely because of a doubling in condom
use. By 1995, use at first intercourse reached 78%, with 2/3 of it
9 in 10 sexually active women and their partners use a contraceptive
method, although not always consistently or correctly.10
About 1 in 6 teenage women practicing contraception combine two
methods, primarily the condom and another method.11
The method teenage women most frequently use is the pill (44%),
followed by the condom (38%). About 10% rely on the injectable, 4% on
withdrawal and 3% on the implant.12
Teenagers are less likely than older women to practice contraception
without interruption over the course of a year, and more likely to
practice contraception sporadically or not at all.13
SEXUALLY TRANSMITTED DISEASES (STDs)
Every year 3 million teens--about 1 in 4 sexually experienced
teens--acquire an STD.14
In a single act of unprotected sex with an infected partner, a teenage
woman has a 1% risk of acquiring HIV, a 30% risk of getting genital
herpes and a 50% chance of contracting gonorrhea.15
Chlamydia is more common among teens than among older men and women;
in some settings, 10-29% of sexually active teenage women and 10% of
teenage men tested for STDs have been found to have chlamydia.16
Teens have higher rates of gonorrhea than do sexually active men and
women aged 20-44.17
In some studies, up to 15% of sexually active teenage women have been
found to be infected with the human papillomavirus, many with a strain
of the virus linked to cervical cancer.18
Teenage women have a higher hospitalization rate than older women for
acute pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), which is most often caused by
untreated gonorrhea or chlamydia. PID can lead to infertility and
Each year, almost 1 million teenage women--10% of all women aged 15-19
and 19% of those who have had sexual intercourse--become pregnant.20
The overall U.S. teenage pregnancy rate declined 17% between 1990 and
1996, from 117 pregnancies per 1,000 women aged 15-19 to 97 per 1,000.21
78% of teen pregnancies are unplanned, accounting for about 1/4 of all
accidental pregnancies annually.22
half (56%) of the 905,000 teenage pregnancies in 1996 ended in
births (2/3 of which were unplanned).
6 in 10 teen pregnancies occur among 18-19 year-olds.23
Teen pregnancy rates are much higher in the United States than in many
other developed countries--twice as high as in England and Wales or
Canada, and nine times as high as in the Netherlands or Japan.24
Steep decreases in the pregnancy rate among sexually experienced
teenagers accounted for most of the drop in the overall teenage
pregnancy rate in the early-to-mid 1990s. While 20% of the decline is
because of decreased sexual activity, 80% is due to more effective
13% of all U.S. births are to teens.26
The fathers of babies born to teenage mothers are likely to be older
than the women: About 1 in 5 infants born to unmarried minors are
fathered by men 5 or more years older than the mother.27
78% of births to teens occur outside of marriage.28
Teens now account for 31% of all nonmarital births, down from 50% in
1/4 of teenage mothers have a second child within 2 years of their
TEEN MOTHERS AND THEIR CHILDREN
Teens who give birth are much more likely to come from poor or
low-income families (83%) than are teens who have abortions (61%) or
teens in general (38%).31
7 in 10 teen mothers complete high school, but they are less likely
than women who delay childbearing to go on to college.32
In part because most teen mothers come from disadvantaged backgrounds,
28% of them are poor while in their 20s and early 30s; only 7% of women
who first give birth after adolescence are poor at those ages.33
1/3 of pregnant teens receive inadequate prenatal care; babies born to
young mothers are more likely to be low-birth-weight, to have childhood
health problems and to be hospitalized than are those born to older
Nearly 4 in 10 teen pregnancies (excluding those ending in
miscarriages) are terminated by abortion. There were about 274,000
abortions among teens in 1996.35
Since 1980, abortion rates among sexually experienced teens have
declined steadily, because fewer teens are becoming pregnant, and in
recent years, fewer pregnant teens have chosen to have an abortion.36
The reasons most often given by teens for choosing to have an abortion
are being concerned about how having a baby would change their lives,
feeling that they are not mature enough to have a child and having
29 states currently have mandatory parental involvement laws in effect
for a minor seeking an abortion: AL, AR, DE, GA, ID, IN, IO, KS, KY, LA,
MD, MA, MI, MN, MS, MO, NE, NC, ND, OH, PA, RI, SC, SD, UT, VA, WV, WI
61% of minors who have abortions do so with at least one parent's
knowledge; 45% of parents are told by their daughter. The great majority
of parents support their daughter's decision to have an abortion.39
The data in this fact sheet are the most current available. Most of the
data are from research conducted by The Alan Guttmacher Institute (AGI)
or published in the peer-reviewed journal Family Planning
Perspectives and the 1994 AGI report Sex and America's Teenagers.
Additional sources include the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention and the National Center for Health Statistics.
1. Singh S and Darroch JE, Trends in sexual activity among
adolescent American women: 1982- 1995, Family Planning Perspectives,
1999, 31(5): 211- 219; special tabulations by The Alan Guttmacher
Institute (AGI) of data from the 1995 National Survey of Family Growth;
and Sonenstein FL et al., Involving Males in Preventing Teen
Pregnancy: A Guide for Program Planners, Washington, DC: The Urban
Institute, 1997, p. 12.
3. AGI, Sex and America's Teenagers, New York: AGI, 1994,
4. Moore KA et al., A Statistical Portrait of Adolescent Sex,
Contraception, and Childbearing, Washington, DC: National Campaign
to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, 1998, p. 11.
6. Darroch JE, Landry DJ and Oslak S, Age differences between
sexual partners in the United States, Family Planning Perspectives,
1999, 31(4):160- 167, Table 1.
7. Sonenstein FL et al., 1997, op. cit. (see reference 1), p.
8. Harlap S, Kost K and Forrest JD, Preventing Pregnancy,
Protecting Health: A New Look at Birth Control Choices in the United
States, New York: AGI, 1991, Figure 5.4, p. 36.
9. AGI, 1994, op. cit. (see reference 3), Figure 22, p. 33; and
Moore KA et al., 1998, op. cit. (see reference 4), p. 23.
10. Piccinino LJ and Mosher WD, Trends in contraceptive use in
the United States: 1982-1995, Family Planning Perspectives, 1998,
30(1):4-10 & 46, Table 1; and Moore KA et al., 1998, op. cit. (see
reference 4), p. 25.
11. Piccinino LJ and Mosher WD, 1998, op. cit. (see reference
10), Table 8.
12. Special tabulations by The Alan Guttmacher Institute of
Ibid, Table 5 and of data from the 1995 National Survey of Family
13. Glei DA, Measuring contraceptive use patterns among teenage
and adult women, Family Planning Perspectives, 1999, 31(2):73-
80, Tables 1 and 2.
Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs)
14. AGI, 1994, op. cit. (see reference 3), p. 38.
15. Ibid., p. 31.
16. Donovan P, Testing Positive: Sexually Transmitted Disease
and the Public Health Response, New York: AGI, 1993, p. 24.
18. Ibid., pp. 24-25.
19. Ibid., p. 24.
20. AGI, Teenage pregnancy: overall trends and state-by-state
information, New York: AGI, 1999, Table 1; and Henshaw SK, U.S. Teenage
pregnancy statistics with comparative statistics for women aged 20- 24,
New York: AGI, 1999, p. 5.
22. Henshaw SK, Unintended pregnancy in the United States,
Family Planning Perspectives, 1998, 30(1):24-29 & 46, Table 1.
23. Henshaw SK, 1999, op. cit. (see reference 20).
24. AGI, 1994, op. cit. (see reference 3), Figure 55, p. 76.
25. AGI, U.S. teenage pregnancy rate drops another 4% between
1995 and 1996, news release, New York: AGI, April 29, 1999.
26. Ventura SJ et al., Births: final data for 1997, National
Vital Statistics Report, 1997, Vol. 47, No. 18, Table 2.
27. Lindberg LD et al., Age differences between minors who give
birth and their adult partners, Family Planning Perspectives,
28. Ventura SJ et al., 1997, op. cit. (see reference 26), Table
29. Ibid., Table C; and National Center for Health Statistics,
Vital Statistics of the United States, 1970: Vol. 1--Natality,
Rockville, MD: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1975.
30. Kalmuss DS and Namerow PB, Subsequent childbearing among
teenage mothers: the determinants of a closely spaced second birth,
Family Planning Perspectives, 1994, 26(4): 149-153 & 159.
Teen Mothers And Their Children
31. AGI, 1994, op. cit. (see reference 3), p. 58.
32. Ibid., p. 59.
33. Ibid., p. 61.
34. Ibid., p. 62.
35. AGI, 1999, op. cit. (see reference 20).
37. Torres A and Forrest JD, Why do women have abortions?
Family Planning Perspectives, 1988, 20(4):169-176, Table 1.
38. AGI, The status of major abortion-related policies in the
states: state laws, regulations and court decisions as of July 1999,
Washington, DC: AGI, 1999.
39. Henshaw SK and Kost K, Parental involvement in minors'
abortion decisions, Family Planning Perspectives, 1992,
24(5):196-207 & 213.
40. CHART 1--Sources: reference 1.
41. CHART 2--Source: Henshaw SK, (reference 20), Table 1.