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Teenage pregnancy rate decline ‘may be linked to time spent online’

Conceptions to women aged under 18 in England and Wales decreased by 11% from 2015 to 2016. Photo: PA Images

Teenage pregnancy rates could be declining because of the amount of time young people spend online, a new report suggests.

The social interactions of teenagers, including a focus on family time and keeping in touch over the internet, may have affected their likelihood of having sexual relationships, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) said.

This could have contributed in part to teenage pregnancy levels dipping to their lowest since records began last year, the charity added.

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), there were 18,076 conceptions to women aged under 18 in England and Wales in 2016, an 11% decrease from 2015.

More time spent online could be causing a decline in teenage pregnancies. Credit: PA

This equates to 18.9 conceptions per thousand women aged 15 to 17, compared to a rate of 47.1 per thousand in 1969, the figures released in March show.

Around 1,000 16 to 18-year-olds took part in a survey as part of the research by BPAS.

More than two thirds (70%) said they speak to friends online four or more times a week, while less than a quarter (24%) interact with friends in person this is often outside of work or studying.

Around one in five (22%) said they see friends outside of work or study once a month or less, the survey found.

The researchers suggest young people who regularly socialise face-to-face with their friends or partners are more likely to be sexually active.

Almost half (46%) of teenagers who see friends four times a week said they have had sex before, compared to 29% of those who see them in person once a month or less.

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Of those who see their partner every day face-to-face, 15% said they have not had sex with anyone, compared to 42% of those who see their boyfriend or girlfriend once a month or less often.

Teenagers who socialised in person regularly were also more likely to have had sex with more than one partner.

The report said: “The low levels of teenage pregnancy rates may in part be attributed to lower levels of face-to-face interaction between young people and their peers, as opportunities for sexual interaction that could result in a pregnancy are reduced.”

Around a third (33%) of teenagers viewed time with their family as of high importance, compared to 27% who said the same for their friends, the survey found.

Meanwhile, the majority of respondents (82%) said getting good grades or succeeding in their chosen career was a priority, compared to around two thirds (68%) who said the same of spending time with their peers.

Katherine O’Brien, head of policy research at BPAS, said: “Our research reveals that this is a generation who are focused on their education, aware of economic challenges, but determined to succeed regardless, and many of whom enjoy time with their families as much with partners and friends.

“They seem to place significant value on responsibility and maturity, particularly when it comes to alcohol consumption and sex.

“We believe that young people themselves are making different choices about the way they live their lives.

“If we can maintain good access to contraceptive services for young people, there is every reason to hope this profound decline in teenage pregnancies is here to stay.”