Continuing a decades-long trend, the teenage pregnancy rate fell 38%, from the all-time high in 1990 to a historic low in 2004, according to a new report by the National Center for Health Statistics, a division of the CDC. The decline is due in large part to improved contraceptive use among sexually active teens. A recent analysis by the Guttmacher Institute found that 86% of the decline in teen pregnancy between 1995 and 2002 was due to more teens using contraception and using it more effectively.

Previous government studies documented a trend toward improved condom use, in particular. The proportion of high school students who reported using a condom during last sexual intercourse increased consistently between 1991 and 2003, from 46% to 63%, and remained at that level between 2003 and 2005. But future gains may be jeopardized by the fact that the proportion of U.S. teens receiving any formal instruction about birth control methods has declined sharply. As a 2006 study by the Guttmacher Institute revealed, only 66% of males and 70% of females received formal instruction about birth control in 2002, compared with 81–87% in 1995.

Declines in teen pregnancy rates between 1990 and 2004 are also reflected in steady declines in both teen birthrates and abortion rates during that period. However, the CDC recently reported that in 2006, teen birthrates increased for the first time in over a decade. Pregnancy data are not yet available for 2006, so it’s not yet possible to determine the reasons for this increase.

The CDC data reinforce the need for comprehensive, medically accurate sex education programs for teens that include information about consistent, correct contraceptive use. Taken together, the above findings also make the case for improved access to confidential reproductive health services to help teens continue the progress they’ve made in reducing unintended pregnancies. Well conducted studies overwhelmingly show that abstinence-only programs do not work, leading 17 states to opt out of the federal funding for these programs. Policymakers should stop pouring money into programs that are proven ineffective and should instead support our nation’s youth with proven strategies such as dedicated funding for comprehensive sex education programs.

For more information:

Click here for Guttmacher data on teen sexual and reproductive health

Click here for information on the states that have opted out of abstinence-only funding

Click here for information on strategies that work

Click here for the CDC report Estimated Pregnancy Rates by Outcome for the United States, 1990–2004