Kaiser Family Foundation/seventeen Release Second SexSmarts Survey of Teen Opinions of ‘Safer Sex’
American teens are delaying sexual activity and increasingly using contraceptives when they do engage in sex, although many teens still occasionally forgo protection, according to the second national survey in the SexSmarts series conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation and seventeen magazine. The SexSmarts campaign aims to provide youth with information and resources on sexual health topics, and examines teens' knowledge and attitudes about "safer sex" and the sexual decisions they make as a result. The survey revealed that 86% of teens consider abstinence to be "safe sex," while 21% also called oral sex "safe sex." Two-thirds of teens between the ages of 15 and 17 reported using some method of protection every time they have intercourse, with condoms rated as the first choice for contraception. However, 12% said that they never use protection, and 50% and 13% of teens aged 15-17 have practiced the withdrawal and rhythm methods respectively, while only 39% have used birth control pills. The survey also revealed "a range of perceptions and misperceptions" about contraception that may affect teen sexual choices, such as 40% of girls who worry about negative health consequences associated with the pill. Further, 29% considered condoms to be "not too" or "not at all" effective in protecting against HIV/AIDS; 33% thought they are not effective in protecting against other STDs; and 15% did not consider them an effective method in preventing pregnancy. Almost 25% said that condoms break so often that they are "not worth using." Twenty-one percent of teens believe birth control pills are effective at HIV protection, and 22% believe they are effective in protecting against other STDs. Emergency contraception is not a well-known pregnancy prevention option among teens, despite the two brands now available on the market.
Pregnancy prevention is the "top priority" for teens when choosing a contraceptive method, with 92% saying it influences their decision. Eighty-eight percent also said HIV and STD prevention is a factor in their method selection; 75% rate convenience as an important factor in contraceptive choice; and 65% of teens surveyed said it is important to them to obtain contraception without parental awareness. Cost is also a significant consideration for 49% of respondents. Eighty-three percent of teens, both male and female, take partner preference into account when selecting contraception, but half of girls said that they would prefer to use a contraceptive without their partner knowing. Although many teens expressed concern about the "implicit messages" condom use may send about their partners or their own sexual history, 89% would be glad if their partner brought the subject up; 87% would feel respected; 86% would feel relieved; and 84% would feel cared for. Only 20% indicated that they would feel insulted. To access this and the previous SexSmarts survey, enter http://www.kff.org/docs/sections/repro/sexsmarts.html into your Web browser (SexSmarts, 12/2000).