Fewer teens are engaging in sexual activity than in the past, and those that do are more likely to use contraceptives (search), the government said Friday.

The National Center for Health Statistics said that for girls aged 15 to 17 the percentage who had ever had intercourse declined from 38 percent in 1995 to 30 percent in 2002.

For boys, the agency said, the decline was 43 percent to 31 percent.

"There is much good news in these results," Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson said in a statement. "More teenagers are avoiding or postponing sexual activity, which can lead to sexually transmitted diseases, unwanted pregnancy or emotional and societal responsibilities for which they are not prepared."

In addition, the agency said that when teens do have intercourse, 79 percent reported using contraception in 1991-2002 compared with 61 percent in the 1980's. The agency said the increase in contraception is consistent with a decline in teen pregnancy.

The report was based on data collected by the center, a part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in the 2002 National Survey of Family Growth and the previous survey conducted in 1995.

While there was a drop in sexual activity at ages 15 to 17, the share of never-married females aged 18-19 who had ever had intercourse was 69 percent in 2002, up from 68 percent in 1995.

By contrast, for 18- and 19-year-old boys the share dropped from 75 percent in 1995 to 64 percent in 2002.

Teen girls' first sexual partners are most commonly boys one to three years older than they are, usually a steady boyfriend, the report said.

In a separate report, the agency said that for women aged 15 to 44, the leading methods of contraception in the United States in 2002 were the oral contraceptive pill, 11.7 million women; female sterilization, 10.3 million; the male condom, 6.9 million; male sterilization, 3.5 million, and the Depo-Provera injectable, 2.0 million.