THURSDAY, May 3, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- More teenage girls are using contraceptives, which may explain part of the dramatic drop in the U.S. teen pregnancy rate, federal health officials reported Thursday.
The teen birth rate has dropped 44 percent since 1990, to 34 births for every 1,000 females. In 2010, about 368,000 infants were born to teen mothers, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"We know there have been declines in teen pregnancy, which is wonderful, and increases in abstinence among teens, which is really wonderful also," said report author Crystal Pirtle Tyler, a CDC health scientist. "There has also been increases in contraceptive use."
Tyler noted that there has been a 16 percent decline in teens who say they are sexually active. "The majority of teens report never having had sex," she said.
To keep teen pregnancy rates declining, teens and their doctors need to have talks about delaying having sex, Tyler said. "It would be great if teens know that the majority of teens have never had sex," she added.
Even teens who are sexually active can be counseled to stop having sex, Tyler noted.
Tyler also said she thinks doctors have become less adverse to offering contraceptive advice to teens. "They are more comfortable providing contraceptive information than they were before," she said.
The new findings were published in the May 4 issue of the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
Using data from the National Survey of Family Growth, the researchers found that about 60 percent of sexually active teens said they used effective contraceptive methods. Contraceptives included intrauterine devices, implants, pills, patches, rings or injectable contraceptives.
That represents a 47 percent increase in contraceptive use since 1995, the researchers said.
Contraceptive use varied by race and ethnic group, the researchers found. More white teens (66 percent) than black (46 percent) or Hispanic teens (54 percent) used contraceptives.
Although these findings are seen as progress in reducing teen pregnancy rates, meeting the Healthy People 2020 goal of reducing teen pregnancy rates by 10 percent will require "a comprehensive approach to sexual and reproductive health that includes continued promotion of delayed sexual debut and increased use of highly effective contraception among sexually experienced teens," the CDC said.
However, "we are on target to meet that goal," Tyler added.
Dr. Lawrence Friedman, director of adolescent medicine at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, said that, "It's good news that young people are using more contraceptives when they are sexually active, and that there are more young people that are delaying the onset of sexual activity."
However, Friedman doesn't think that the apparent decrease in sexual activity means that teens are having less sex, just that they may be having less intercourse. "So, it does not indicate that teenagers are really less sexually active, maybe they are not choosing intercourse," he explained.
The fact that the pregnancy rate is down could mean that fewer teens are having intercourse, but perhaps more teens are choosing oral sex or mutual masturbation instead of intercourse, Friedman added.
For more information on contraception, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.