Comparability of estimates and trends in adolescent sexual and contraceptive behaviors from two national surveys: National Survey of Family Growth and the Youth Risk Behavior Survey

Laura D. Lindberg, Rutgers School of Public Health Rachel H. Scott, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine Sheila Desai, Guttmacher Institute Zoe H. Pleasure

First published on PLOS ONE:

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Abstract / Summary

To compare adolescents’ reports of sexual and contraceptive behaviors between the National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG) and the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS).

For each survey, we estimated the year- and sex-specific prevalence of sexual and contraceptive behaviors among a comparably defined sample of US respondents ages 15–19 currently attending high school. We used logistic regression to test for changes in prevalence from 2007–2019 and conducted sensitivity analyses to investigate between-survey differences.

We found differences in both prevalence and trends between the YRBS and NSFG when limited to a comparably defined sample. Compared to the NSFG, adolescents in the YRBS were more likely to report being sexually experienced, less likely to report use of prescription methods for both sexes, and less likely to report condoms among males. Only the YRBS estimated significant declines in sexual experience for both sexes, and significant increases in prescription methods and declines in condom use among males. Differences between surveys in the prevalence of specific contraceptive methods reflected greater combined use of methods in the NSFG. We identified differences in question-wording and other aspects that may influence these differential patterns.

The NSFG and YRBS produced inconsistent prevalence estimates and trends for sexual and contraceptive behaviors among in-school adolescents. Further efforts to improve these national surveillance systems are critical to inform policy and research efforts that support adolescent sexual and reproductive health and wellbeing.