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One in eight Canadian teenagers has had sexual intercourse by the age of 15, Statistics Canada reported Tuesday.

The figures are 12 per cent for boys and 13 per cent for girls.

The estimates are based on surveys done between 1998 and 2003. The agency warned that the data, which is self-reported, "may not accurately reflect the [respondents'] behaviour."

By the time teenagers reach 17, the proportion of those reporting they had had sex at least once more than doubled to 28 per cent, and by age 24, it was 80 per cent.

Overall, the number of teens having sex has decreased, as a result of increased education and higher awareness, one researcher said.

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Alex McKay

"Today's numbers from Stats Canada are actually a little bit lower than what we've seen in the past," said Alex McKay of the Sex Information and Education Council of Canada. "They seem to confirm a sort of long-term gradual trend towards a bit of conservatism among today's youth."

The number of teens who have contracted sexually transmitted diseases such as chlamydia remains on the rise, added McKay, pointing to reduced use of condoms.

U.S. proportion double

In the United States, the proportions are more than double for younger teenagers, according to 2003 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Almost 33 per cent reported having sex by age 15, rising to 61 per cent by the end of high school.

In its report, StatsCan also said:
  • A third of sexually active 15-to-24-year-olds had more than one partner in the previous year.
  • About three in 10 who had sex with multiple partners had not used a condom the last time they had intercourse.
  • Teenagers who have sex by age 13 are more likely to have multiple partners.
  • Young teenagers who drink or smoke are more likely to have sex.
  • Young men are more likely to have multiple partners than young women.
In an earlier study, StatsCan reported the teenage pregnancy rate is dropping, "perhaps reflecting the availability of contraceptives, and the increased awareness of the risks of unprotected sex brought about by the AIDS epidemic."

Condom use

It's a problem that most sexually active teens don't use condoms regularly, said Eileen Wiens, a nurse at a busy clinic for teens in Winnipeg.

"They use something on Saturday night and alcohol's often involved," said Wiens. "They don't bring [condoms] with them."

In Winnipeg, Kelly McKinnon, 17, said schools need to provide kids her age and younger with information they need, and challenge homophobia.

As with sexual activity, the U.S. rate of teen pregnancies is about twice the Canadian rate.

In 1997, 42,162 Canadian teens got pregnant, or a rate of 42.7 pregnancies per 1,000 women aged 15 to 19.

A majority of the pregnancies ended with abortions.

The StatsCan figures are based on the National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth, involving a sample of 3,212 people, aged 14 or 15 in 1998-99 or 2000-01, and a 2003 community health survey on sex, condom use and sexually transmitted diseases with a sample of 18,084 people aged 15 to 24.