Compared with teens 10 years ago, fewer American high schoolers report having had sex, but of those who are sexually active, just slightly more than half say they use condoms, a new federal study finds.
The latest statistics come from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Youth Risk Behavior Survey, which presents data from a nationally representative population of high school students. Questions range from sexual activity to drug use to feelings of depression and loneliness.
The number of high school students who say they’ve ever had sex declined from 47.8 percent in 2007 to 39.5 percent in 2017. Yet condom use among this group also declined, from 61.5 percent in 2007 to 53.8 percent in 2017.
Overall, teens are practicing a number of more conservative behaviors. The number of sexual partners also declined, with the percentage of students who had sex with four or more people dropping from 14.9 percent in 2007 to 9.7 percent in 2017.
Illicit drug use, which also increases risk for transmission of HIV, dropped from 22.6 percent in 2007 to 14 percent in 2017. However, researchers raised concern that at least 14 percent of students said they misused prescription opioids in 2017, the first time the agency asked about such behavior.
“The health of our youth reflects the nation’s wellbeing,” CDC Director Dr. Robert R. Redfield, said in a statement.
“In the past decade, there have been substantial improvements in the behaviors that put students most at risk for HIV and sexually transmitted diseases. However, we can’t yet declare success when so many young people are getting HIV and STDs, and experiencing disturbingly high rates of substance use, violence, and suicide.”
The researchers also highlighted that data showed substantial levels of violence and persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness among today’s youth. The number of students who said they were bullied at school remained the same over the 10 year period — around 19 percent.
Also, the percentage of teens who reported being forced to have sex didn’t change over the past decade, from 7.8 percent in 2007 to 7.4 percent in 2017.
An estimated one in 10 female students and one in 28 male students reported having been physically coerced to have sex, according to the report.
“Today’s youth are making better decisions about their health than just a decade ago,” Dr. Jonathan Mermin, M.D., director of CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention, said in a statement.
“But, some experiences, such as physical and sexual violence, are outside their control and continue at painfully high levels. Their experiences today have powerful implications for their lives tomorrow.”
The report also emphasized there are greater health disparities that exist among students based on sex, race, and those who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or without a clear sexual identity.
An estimated 3.4 percent of LGB teens reported ever injecting illegal drugs, compared to one percent of heterosexual teens. This group is also more likely to misuse prescription opioids and ever use illicit drugs, at 24.3 percent and 23.1 percent compared to 14 percent among heterosexual youth.
LGB teens also experience sexual violence and discrimination at higher numbers than heterosexual teens, with 21.9 percent saying they had been forced to have sex (compared to 5.4 percent of heterosexual teens). They are two times more likely to be bullied online and at school and 74 percent more likely to be threatened or injured at school with a weapon.
While suicide rates across the U.S. are rising, LGB teens are particularly vulnerable, four times more likely to attempt suicide and be injured in a suicide attempt.
“Students are more likely to thrive if they feel safe and have a sense of belonging – and if they have parents, adults, teachers, and friends who they know care about their success,” Kathleen Ethier, PhD., director of CDC’s Division of Adolescent and School Health, said in a statement.
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