Study Shows Higher Unwed Birthrates Among Sexually Experienced Teens Despite Increased Condom Use

Report finds that overall reduction in teen pregnancy is due to abstinence, not increased contraceptive use

From The Consortium of State Physicians Resource Councils
February 10, 1999
CONTACT: Consortium of State PRCs c/o NJ Physicians Resource Council (877) 236-5772

Washington-At a Capitol Hill news conference today, the Consortium of State Physicians Resource Councils released a report showing that the cause of the overall teen birth rate decline in the 1990s is not increased contraceptive use, but a trend toward sexual abstinence. The report also shows that among those teens who are sexually-active, the non-marital birth rate has risen dramatically.

"Our report challenges the consensus of government funded health agencies that contraceptive training and the increased availability of condoms for teens must play a central role in the prevention of pregnancy," said Dr. John Diggs, Consortium spokesman and member of the Massachusetts Physicians Resource Council. "The findings of our report show that the safe sex approach to teen sexuality is a failure and not at all safe."

According to the report: "Programs in safer sex education and condom distribution have not reduced the out- of-wedlock birthrates among sexually experienced teens. It appears possible that programs aimed at producing abstinent behavior have been more successful than programs aimed at increasing safer-sex practices in reducing unintended births to adolescents. The authors believe that the correlation between increased condom usage and higher out-of-wedlock birthrates among teens has significant public health policy implications."

The research report, entitled The Declines in Adolescent Pregnancy, Abortion and Birth Rates in the 1990s: What Factors are Responsible? was authored by 11 physicians and commissioned by a network of 13 state organizations representing over 2,000 physicians. The conclusions of the study are likely to be controversial because they refute statements by the U.S. Department of Health, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and other public health organizations which credit increased contraceptive use for the decline in the number of teen pregnancies.

"The Consortium commissioned this research report out of a concern that the interpretation of declining teen pregnancy/birth/abortion rates was dictated more by ideology than an objective review of the data," said Dr. Diggs.

The report's major findings show: The correlation between condom use and unintended pregnancies is the exact opposite of that claimed by the public health community. The fact is, increased condom use by teens is associated with increased out-of-wedlock birth rates. The out-of-wedlock birth rate to sexually- experienced teens did not decline from 1988 to 1995, but actually increased 29%, despite a 33% increase in the use of condoms at last intercourse.

The birth rate decline for all females aged 15 to 19 - from 62.1 births per 1,000 teens in 1991 to 54.7 per 1,000 teens in 1996 is due primarily to the decrease in teen sexual activity.

The proportion of teens choosing abstinence has been growing and the majority of that growth has been among teenage males. In 1997, 51.1% of male teens had never had sex. This figure compares to 39.2% in 1990. The increase among female teens has been much less, from 52.0% in 1990 to 52.3% in 1997. The abstinence factor in sex education programs is a much more reasonable explanation than the contraceptive component for the lower rates of pregnancy, abortion and births among alt teens. A number of successful abstinence-centered programs are highlighted in the report.

"The implications of this research to public health policy are far reaching," said Dr. Joanna Mohn of the NJ Physicians Resource Council. "This report documents that increased condom use and higher illegitimacy rates among teens have gone hand-in-hand. Such analysis should go a long way to resolve the current debate about 'safe-sex' versus abstinence-centered programs. Abstinence, not 'safe sex,' has proven to be the successful teen health message."

"When Congress decided in 1996 to allocate $250 million to promote sexual abstinence until marriage to teens, the sex education establishment derided the policy, stating that teens needed training in condom use to prevent pregnancy," said Rep. Tom Coburn, M.D., (R-Okla.). "This report debunks that theory and appears to land on the side of the abstinence advocates."

The report concludes:

"The evidence points to sexual abstinence, not increased contraceptive use, as the primary reason for the decline in teen pregnancy and birth rates throughout the 1990s. The increase in teen abstinence is likely due to a combination of factors-the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the growth of abstinence-only programs, generational changes and increased cultural acceptance of abstinence... The timing of the federal Title V abstinence program seems well placed. Educational and youth programs should increase their emphasis on the abstinence message."


To obtain additional copies of The Declines in Adolescent Pregnancy, Birth and Abortion Rates in the 1990s: What Factors Are Responsible? call (8T7) 236-5772.

The Consortium of State Physicians Resource Councils is an association of more than 2,000 health professionals who are dedicated to bringing accurate medical data to public health officials and public policy makers.