Despite a steady decline in the teen birthrate between 1991 and the present — from a high in 1991 of 62 births per 1,000 females age 15 to 19, to 49 such births in 2000 — concerns about teen sexual activity persist:
- In 1999, half of all high school students and nearly two-thirds of graduating seniors reported having had sexual intercourse (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2000).
- In 1999, one in five high school seniors reported having had sex with four or more partners (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2000).
- Nearly 480,000 babies were born to teens in 2000, and 79 percent of these births were out of wedlock (National Center for Health Statistics 2002).
The consequences of teenage sexual activity and out-of-wedlock childbearing are many and serious for teens, their families, their communities, and society. Over three-fifths of teen mothers live in poverty at the time of their child’s birth, and over four-fifths eventually live below poverty (Maynard 1996). Children born to teen mothers often fare badly during infancy, early childhood, and their adolescent and adult lives. Compared with children born to mothers who delay childbearing until age 21 or older, children of teen mothers are more likely to grow up in homes that are not emotionally supportive or cognitively stimulating, to suffer from abuse and neglect, to repeat a grade in school, and to drop out of high school (Moore et al. 1997; Goerge and Lee 1997; and Haveman et al. 1997).
In addition to its social and economic consequences, teen sexual activity also brings increased risks of STDs. In fact, teenage females have the highest rates of STDs of any age group. In the United States, more than 65 million people have an STD, and most are incurable viral infections (National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases 2000). STDs may cause such lifelong complications as infertility, ectopic pregnancies, miscarriages, stillbirths, intrauterine growth retardation, and perinatal infections. One STD, human papillomavirus, is the primary cause of cervical cancer. Moreover, because of limitations in study design, the scientific evidence on the effectiveness of condoms in preventing STDs is inconclusive (National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases 2000).