Yesterday the CDC released the results of its Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance, a survey of 15,000 high school students around the nation that asks questions about a variety of health and safety behaviors.
The headline for sexual health was: no headline.
There were no statistically significant changes in the percent of young people who have ever had sex (47%), who are currently sexually active (34%), or who used condoms (60%) and/or the most effective forms of birth control (24%) at last sex.
The only statistically significant change was in HIV education, and it wasn’t good: the percentage of students taught in school about HIV has trended down since 1997 and went down between 2009 to 2011 (from 87% to 84%).
What lessons can we take from this?
1) No matter how much adults want to live in denial, a significant proportion of teens are having sex. Among seniors, 63 percent of students have already had sex and nearly half are currently sexually active.
2) Safer sex messages still haven’t taken hold among all young people. While it’s wonderful that so many young people are using condoms and birth control, those numbers need to be much closer to 100 percent, with all young people fully protected.
3) Every year fewer students are learning about HIV – and we already knew that less than a quarter have been tested for HIV. What’s causing this – the abstinence-only programs that have taken root around the nation? No Child Left Behind and the emphasis on standardized testing? Funding cuts in the current economic climate? Whatever the cause, the erosion of HIV education has to stop. Students’ lives depend on it.