The number of teens who report having sex is down

But so is condom use among high school students who are sexually active


TEEN HEALTH  The latest national survey on teen health behaviors finds that fewer teens are having sex than at any time since 1991, the first year the survey was conducted. But condom use has recently gone down, putting more teens at risk for sexually transmitted infections.

Fewer teens are having sex than at any point since 1991, a national survey of U.S. high school students finds. But among those students who are sexually active, fewer are using condoms, raising the risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections.

About 40 percent of teens surveyed in 2017 reported having ever had sex. That’s down from about 54 percent in 1991, the first year the survey was conducted. Of the roughly 29 percent of students who are currently sexually active — defined as having had sexual intercourse with at least one person in the three months before the survey — nearly 54 percent reported that either they or their partner used a condom the last time they had had sex. Ten years ago, about 61 percent of teens reported condom use.

Cora Breuner, a pediatrician specializing in adolescent medicine at Seattle Children’s Hospital, says that pediatricians have been doing a better job educating teens about sex. “The more kids know about it, the less mystique there is about it,” she says, and “the more they want to wait.”

“I’m actually more concerned about the lack of condom use,” says Breuner, who also chairs the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Adolescence. She sees two reasons for the drop: Less fear of HIV with the advent of antiretroviral drugs and wider availability of long acting contraceptives, which are very effective at preventing pregnancy. “We are not doing a good job informing kids about protecting themselves from getting sick with infections that can last the rest of their lives and have significant negative outcomes, including infertility and even death.”

Part of a biennial report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the new analysis, published on June 14, relied on close to 15,000 surveys from teens in grades 9 to 12 at 144 schools. The report includes information on various health-related behaviors, information that could be used to help guide youth public health policies. For instance:

  • Of the nearly 63 percent of students who drive, about 39 percent had texted or e-mailed while behind the wheel. That percentage has remained fairly steady since 2013.

  • About 16 percent of teens had ridden in a car with a driver who had been drinking, down from 20 percent in 2015 and nearly 40 percent in 1991.

  • Almost 15 percent of students had been bullied on social media, and 19 percent had been bullied on school property, about the same as in 2015.

  • About 7 percent had been physically forced to have sex. This occurred more frequently among females (around 11 percent) than males (around 3 percent). The overall percentage has stayed about the same in the last decade.

  • Close to a third of students reported feeling sad or hopeless for two or more weeks in a row in the year before the survey, up from around 28 percent a decade ago.

  • 14 percent of teens had misused prescription opioids, the first time this question has been asked.

  • And about 42 percent had ever tried some kind of vaping device, such as e-cigarettes or e-hookahs, similar to what was found the first time the question was asked in 2015. But only 13 percent had done so within the 30 days before the survey — an indication of current use — down from 24 percent in 2015.

Aimee Cunningham is the biomedical writer. She has a master’s degree in science journalism from New York University.

More Stories from Science News on Health & Medicine

From the Nature Index

Paid Content