Emergency Contraception Use Growing Among Teen Girls

Pharmacists may have noticed greater emergency contraception (EC) use among teens over the last decade, a new US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study suggests.

Pharmacists may have noticed greater emergency contraception (EC) use among teens over the last decade, a new US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study suggests.

Between 2011 and 2013, 22% of female teenagers who had sex at least once had taken the morning-after pill—a notable increase from 14% between 2006 and 2010, and 8% in 2002.

Much of this growth in EC use could be attributed to Plan B One-Step becoming available OTC with no age restrictions in June 2013. Since then, pharmacies may have decided to place the product in their aisles or keep it locked behind a counter.

In some states, pharmacists may refuse to provide EC under conscience clauses, which allow them to refuse to offer certain services based on personal beliefs or values.

In addition to trends in EC use, CDC researchers examined sexual activity, contraceptive use, and pregnancy among teens aged 15 to 19 years between 2011 and 2013. These data gleaned from the National Survey of Family Growth involved 1037 girls and 1088 boys.

One of the key findings was that fewer teens are having sex than before. The researchers found that 44% of female teenagers and 47% of male teenagers were sexually active by age 19, which declined 14% for girls and 22% for boys over the past quarter-century.

A total of 4.3 million teen girls and 4.8 million teens boys who had never been married had sex at least once between 2011 and 2013, according to the data.

Among these sexually active teenagers, 79% of girls and 84% of boys had used a method of contraception during their first sexual encounter. Teens most frequently reported using condoms, while a “withdrawal” method and taking an oral contraceptive pill were the next most common contraceptive behaviors.

The older teens were during their first sexual experience, the more likely they were to use contraception. Almost all (99%) male teens who first had sex at age 18 or 19 used contraception, compared with 93% of female teens.

Girls who did not use contraception during their first sexual encounter at age 19 were twice as likely to become a teen mother than those who did use contraception.

“In addition to costing the public about $9.4 billion a year, teen childbearing has negative consequences for the physical, psychological, and economic wellbeing of the young mothers and their children,” the researchers wrote.

Fewer teen girls were using the patch (10% to 2%) and Depo-Provera (20% to 15%) between 2011 and 2013 than between 2006 and 2010. Rates stayed about the same for intrauterine devices (3%) and hormonal implants (2%).

About half (54%) of teen girls had ever used oral contraceptive pills between 2011 and 2013, which did not significantly change from 2002, according to the researchers.

“Understanding these patterns and trends in sexual activity, contraceptive use, and their impact on teen pregnancy can help provide context regarding the recent decline in the US teen birth rate,” the researchers concluded.