WASHINGTON, Sept. 2 (UPI) -- Teenagers haven't stopped having sex, but new research suggests they are being more responsible when engaging in sexual activity -- at least in terms of preventing unwanted pregnancies.
Declines in rates of teen pregnancy and birth in the United States are being driven entirely by significant increases of contraceptive use, researchers at the Guttmacher Institute report in a study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health.
As the teen pregnancy rate between 2007 and 2011 dropped by 25 percent, interviews with 3,321 women ages 15 to 19 between 2006 and 2012 suggest the drop can entirely be credited to increased use of at least one form of contraception.
The expanded use of "highly effective" contraceptives, has been driven by a significant increase in girls using birth control pills, researchers report.
The use of other methods of contraception have seen slight, but insignificant, shifts: There were nonsignificant increases in use of condoms and withdrawal, a small increase in the use of intrauterine devices and implants, significant decline in use of the patch or ring and no change to teens opting for the rhythm method and injectible forms of birth control.
"Teens' increased use of contraceptives indicates their increased commitment to protecting themselves from risk," Heather Boonstra, director of public policy at the Guttmacher Institute, said in a press release. "Policy discussions should focus on supporting teen contraceptive use generally, including ensuring access to a full range of contraceptive education, counseling and methods."
Aside from a suspected decline in teen pregnancy after the reality shows 16 and Pregnant and its offspring, three seasons of the Teen Mom series, most methods of educating teens on preventing pregnancy or acquisition of sexually transmitted infections have failed.
A study in August suggests programs using robotic babies actually make teens 36 percent more likely to get pregnant, and abstinence and fidelity programs were shown by a study in May to be useless at dampening the spread of HIV and AIDS among teens. The study was not the first to poke holes in abstinence programs as a 2010 study showed a significant increase in funding for the programs coincided with an increase in teen pregnancy.
Guttmacher researchers write in the study that the decline in teen pregnancy seen between 1991 and 2007 was also linked to increased contraceptive use, suggesting programs educating teens about contraception are effective.
"There was no significant change in adolescent sexual activity during this time period," said Dr. Laura Lindberg, a researcher at Guttmacher and lead author of the new study. "Rather, our new data suggest that recent declines in teens' risk of pregnancy -- and in their pregnancy rates -- are driven by increased contraceptive use."