(HealthDay News) – For the youngest teenagers, sexual activity and pregnancy are rare, but most older teens are sexually active, according to a study published online April 1 in Pediatrics.

Lawrence B. Finer, PhD, and Jesse M. Philbin, from the Guttmacher Institute in New York City, used nationally representative data from the National Survey of Family Growth to examine the timing of sexual initiation and contraceptive use among U.S. adolescents aged 10–19 years.

The researchers found that among those aged ≤12 years, sexual activity was rare, and most was nonconsensual. Most teens aged 17–19 years were found to be sexually active, while about 30% of 15- to 16-year-olds reported having had sex. Among the youngest teens, pregnancy rates were extremely low and were about one per 10,000 for 12-year-olds. Contraceptive use was similar for older girls and for girls as young as 15 years. Girls who became sexually active at age 14 years or younger were less likely to have used a contraceptive method at first sex and generally took longer to start using contraception.

“Health professionals can improve outcomes for teenagers by recognizing the higher likelihood of nonconsensual sex among younger teens and by teaching and making contraceptive methods available to teen patients before they become sexually active,” the authors write.

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