Teens show savvy in use of condoms
CHICAGO - A surprising 80 percent of teenage boys say they used a condom the first time they had sex, a government survey found in a powerful sign that decades of efforts to change young people’s sexual behavior are taking hold.
But another promising trend - a drop since the 1980s in the number of teenagers having sex - has leveled off.
Boys’ condom use may mean they are taking more responsibility for contraception or they are protecting themselves from sexually transmitted diseases, specialists say. Or, as one young man said, girls may be drawing the line.
“I’m not sure how much of this is guys thinking they need to use a condom or girls insisting they use a condom,’’ said Olivier Vanasse, 17, of Princeton, N.J. “I’d be hesitant to give guys credit for coming up with this on their own.’’
The study, released yesterday, is based on interviews with about 4,700 teenagers, age 15 to 19, conducted from 2006 through 2010. It shows the percentage of boys who said they used a condom the first time they had sex climbed from 71 percent in 2002 to 80 percent in the new survey. In 1988, 55 percent of boys said they used a condom during their first sexual intercourse.
“It comes as a general surprise to people that teenagers in general and teen boys in particular can behave responsibly when it comes to making decisions about sex,’’ said Bill Albert, spokesman for the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.
Asked if they used a condom the last time they had sex in the previous three months, 75 percent said they did, an increase from 71 percent in 2002.
“We don’t think it’s a stupid thing to do anymore,’’ said Vanasse, a high school senior and staff writer for www.sexetc.org, a project of Rutgers University’s Answer, a national sex education organization. “It’s just accepted as common sense that you should be using a condom if you’re going to be having sex.’’
Overall, about 43 percent of girls and 42 percent of boys report having ever had vaginal intercourse, a rate that is statistically unchanged since 2002. The rates had been declining steadily since 1988, when 51 percent of girls and 60 percent of boys reported they had sex.
Albert said those findings also explode myths about teen sex.
“There’s the notion that all teenagers are doing it, and that’s not the case. In fact, less than half said they’ve had sex,’’ he said. The new study contains more encouraging news. For the first time, there was no racial difference in the percentage of girls reporting they had sex. In the past, black females were more likely to be sexually experienced.
■ Teens were less likely to have had sex if they live with both parents, if their mother had not been a teen mother, or if their mother was a college graduate.
■ Most teens - 70 percent of girls and 56 percent of boys - had their first sex with someone with whom they were “going steady.’’
■ A minority - 16 percent of girls and 28 percent of boys - had their first sex with someone they just met or with whom they were “just friends.’’