Adolescent Sexual Activity and Risk Taking
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, YRBSS, is a great source for middle and high school student risk behavior including sexual activity and risk taking. Unfortunately, the Georgia YRBSS does not include questions on sexuality, so we have to rely on the national numbers and one urban Georgia county (DeKalb).
According to YRBSS almost half of all high school students have had sex, a number that has hardly changed since 1997. By 12th grade this number increases to 65% (2007). The percent that is “currently active” decreased during the 90’s, but since 2001 this trend has also turned and it is increasing (35% in 2007). The good news is that our teens are starting a little bit later – 9th graders who have had sex have decreased from 38% in 1993 to 33% in 2007. The number of high school students who report having had sex before the age of 13 has decreased from 9 to 7%. Although it is not much, hopefully this trend will continue with better sex education. (YRBSS, Trends in Sexual Behavior 1991-2007)
Teen Pregnancy, STD’s and HIV
The rising rates of teen pregnancy and HIV infection among young people is an important reasons why GPRHE continues to work towards better sex education at school and to help parents provide it at home.
The emergence of HIV/AIDS in the 80’s gave rise to sex education regulations in many states in the U.S., including Georgia (State Law 1988). The 1990’s saw a decrease in teen pregnancy and many STD’s in the United States and in most developed countries. The decline in teen pregnancy rates in the US continued through 2005, and has been shown to be due mainly to an increase in the use of contraception (Santelli, 2007).
However, the United States continued to have significantly higher rates of teen pregnancies and teen births than any other developed country. During the early 2000’s the teen birth rates first stopped decreasing as fast, then started to level off. Now, for the last two years available (2006 & 2007) there has been an increase in teen birth rates in the U.S. as a whole, including Georgia which ranked number 10 in 2006!*
In March 2008, the CDC provided us with another big scare, one in four teenage girls have an STD, the most common being papilloma virus and chlamydia.
* While we often talk about teen pregnancy rates, there are no national teen pregnancy rates available after 2005; currently the National Center for Health Statistics is providing rates for teen birth (=pregnancies - miscarriages & abortions)
CDC Report 2009
To sum it all up – the recently released CDC Surveillance Summary for Sexual and Reproductive Health for 10 to 24 year olds, 2002-2007 (61 pages, July, 2009) presents a comprehensive report on pregnancy, STD, sexual risk behavior and sexual assault. Since the report is very long, we have put together the graphs from the report here.
Unfortunately, there is very little good news in this report. Georgia is one of the 10 states with the highest AIDS rates among 10-24 year olds, and the rate of full-blown AIDS is increasing sharply among boys 15-19 years old. The rate of chlamydia is slowly climbing even though boys are still getting diagnosed much less frequently than girls (fewer symptoms). Even syphilis, which we thought almost extinct, has been increasing for the last couple of years. The overall numbers of sexual assault injuries that require emergency room visits have not changed much between 2001 and 2006, but, of great concern is that they have increased 25% for girls 15-17 years old, and more than 60% for girls 18-19 years old. The report also includes some results of the CDC Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Summaries.
There is no doubt, that we desperately need family, school, and community action to do something to improve the reproductive health of our youth.