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Contraception More Effective Than Abstinence

December 2006 - New research has found that most of the recent decline in US teen pregnancy rates has resulted from improved contraceptive use, while a small proportion can be attributed to teens waiting longer to start having sex. Findings indicate that promotion of abstinence is insufficient by itself to help adolescents prevent unplanned pregnancies.

The report by Dr John Santelli, professor of Clinical Population and Family Health at the Mailman School of Public Health and published in the American Journal of Public Health suggests that America is following trends in other developed countries where increased availability and use of contraceptives have been primarily responsible for declines in teenage pregnancy rates. The study in conjunction with researchers at the Guttmacher Institute examines data from the National Survey of Family Growth, a nationally representative household survey.

Between 1995 and 2002, US teen pregnancy rates declined by almost one-quarter (24 per cent). Most of the decline (86 per cent) was found to be due to more sexually active teens using contraceptives, and relying on more effective or multiple methods. The remaining 14 per cent could be attributed to teens waiting longer to start having sex. Delays in sexual activity played a greater role for teens aged 15-17 (23 per cent of the decline). Among those in the older group (aged18-19), the decline was entirely attributable to improved contraceptive use.

These findings lead the authors to question the federal government's funding of education programs that focus entirely on abstinence and exclude information about contraception. They argue that public policies and programs should provide adolescents with accurate information about contraception, sexual behavior and relationships. They should also promote increased availability and accessibility of contraception, and the value of responsible behaviors.

John Santelli said:

"The United States seems to be following the recent patterns in other developed countries where increased availability and use of modern contraceptives and condoms have led to remarkable declines in teen pregnancy. If most of the progress in reducing teen pregnancy rates is due to improved contraceptive use national policy needs to catch up with those realities."

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