More than two thirds (69%) of sexually active New York City teens use condoms, compared to 63% nationwide, according to a new survey of public high school students.
But too few sexually active girls are using the pill and other hormonal contraceptives to prevent unplanned pregnancies. The full report - Teen Sexual Activity and Birth Control Use in New York City - is available at www.nyc.gov/html/doh/downloads/pdf/survey/survey-2007youthsex.pdf. It finds that in New York City:
- Only 8% of sexually active teens or their partners use the pill, compared to 18% nationwide.
- Only 4% of sexually active teens use dual protection (condoms and another method), compared to 8% nationwide.
- 19% of sexually active girls (versus 14% nationwide) used no birth control the last time they had sex.
“Postponing sex has many benefits for teens,” said Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, New York City Health Commissioner. “It's the only sure way to avoid pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Teenagers who choose to have sex should know that condoms and long-acting contraceptives are both important.”
More Action Needed To Prevent Teen Pregnancy
In 2005, the New York City teen pregnancy rate (including live births, abortions and miscarriages) was 94 per 1,000 girls aged 15 to 19. Nationally, the rate was just 76 per 1,000 in 2002 (the most recent year on record). Teen pregnancy rates were highest in the city's poorest neighborhoods – the South Bronx (153), East and Central Harlem (142), and North and Central Brooklyn (131).
Teen pregnancy can have serious consequences for mothers and their infants. The vast majority of teen pregnancies (86%) are unintended, and more than half (62%) end in abortion. Teenage parents are less likely to complete high school, and children born to teens are at increased risk of low birth weight, child abuse, behavioral disorders and future poverty.
The new survey suggests that less than half of New York City teens (47%) have ever heard of emergency contraception, a safe, effective method of preventing pregnancy after unprotected sex. Awareness was higher among girls (54%) than boys (39%). In New York City, adults 18 and over can purchase Plan B® (the only FDA-approved brand of emergency contraceptive pills) without a prescription at pharmacy counters. Plan B is most effective when taken within three days after unprotected sex, and moderately effective up to 5 days – the sooner the better.
The Health Department supports various initiatives to help teenagers make the best decisions about their sexual health. These initiatives include:
- Continuation of the Long-Standing School Condom Availability Program: Staff members in high school Health Resource Rooms offer health information and referrals to students. Besides discussing reproductive health concerns, students can obtain condoms and receive instructions on proper use.
- School-Linked Health Care: Staff from the Health Department's Bronx District Public Health Office work in school Health Resource Rooms to link students to community-based clinics. These staff members also spend one day a week at the clinic, assisting students who come in for visits.
- Healthy Teens Initiative: The Health Department works with health care providers, including school-based health centers, to make reproductive health care more accessible. The agency provides tools, resources and training to help meet young people's health needs.
The report's findings show a clear need to educate New York City teenagers about birth control options. Parents, health care providers and other trusted adults have vital roles to play in helping young people stay safe and healthy.
- Parents can encourage their teenagers to delay sexual activity and emphasize the importance of using condoms and birth control if teens become sexually active.
- Health care providers should take a sexual history of all teenage patients and offer them sexual and reproductive health services:
- Encourage teens to delay sexual intercourse.
- Help sexually active adolescents choose appropriate methods of birth control.
- Urge all sexually active adolescents to use condoms – even if they are using other forms of birth control.
- Counsel all adolescents about emergency contraception.