clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Teens are shockingly great at using birth control


Teenage women start using contraceptives at the same time they first have sex, according to new research from the Guttmacher Institute.


The gap between when teenagers start having sex and when they begin using contraceptives has shrunk dramatically over the past six decades.

For women born in 1945, there was a one-year gap between the median age for first having sex (19.2-years-old) and starting to use contraceptives (20.2-years-old).

But over the past six decades, those two events have inched much closer together. And now, for women born in 1991, the median age for the first time having sex and first use of contraceptives are exactly the same: 17.8 years old.

Women also wait longer to have their first child than they did a few decades ago


Right now, there's a nearly 10-year gap (9.7 years, to be exact) between when women first have sex and when they have their first child. For women born in the 1940s, that space was much shorter, just 3.7 years.

This creates a longer time span when women could have an unintended pregnancy. "The growing length of this period makes it vital that women have access to a wide range of effective methods of contraception" including long-acting, reversible contraceptives like IUDs, says study author Lawrence Finer.

Birth control pills and condoms are the most popular contraceptives

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that teens are most likely to use birth control pills and condoms as contraceptives. New guidelines from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists say teens should be offered IUDs as a first-line contraceptive because the implantable device tends to be most effective at preventing pregnancy.

IUDs have typically been more expensive for patients than birth control (and especially more expensive than condoms). The health care law might change that: it requires all insurers to offer any contraceptives at no cost for patients. With some financial barriers removed, that could lead to increased use of IUDs in coming years.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for Vox Recommends

Get curated picks of the best Vox journalism to read, watch, and listen to every week, from our editors.