With sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV transmission on the rise in the U.S., the questions remain: Do young people really understand that they are at risk, and are they using condoms to protect themselves?
A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests that teenagers might be more mature than we give them credit for. Analyzing data from 4,600 teens from across the country between the years of 2006 and 2010, they found:
• Eight out of 10 teen males used a condom the first time they had sex, an increase of 9 percentage points since 2002. However, Black and Latino males were significantly less likely to have used a condom during their first sexual experience than their white counterparts were.
• There was an increase in young couples using two forms of birth control — condoms and birth control pill, for example — than before.
• The number of females aged 15 to 17 reporting sexual experience has dropped by 10 percentage points since 1988, and among males that number has dropped even more.
• The proportion of teenagers having sex has also remained unchanged in recent years: About 43 percent of females and 42 percent of males reported having had sex at least once.
The finding that Black and Latino young men are less likely to use condoms is particularly troubling, given the high incidence of HIV infection in communities of color. African-Americans make up only 13 percent of the U.S. population, but account for 44 percent of all new HIV infections each year. Yet many heterosexual men believe that HIV cannot happen to them, despite the fact that they can contract HIV through vaginal sex.
In contrast to the CDC report, a recent global study about safer sex suggests that condom use is down among teens worldwide, and that comprehensive sex education is not as prevalent as it is in the U.S.
In Clueless or Clued Up: Your Right to be Informed about Contraception, researchers questioned more than 6,000 young people from 26 countries around the world to gauge their feelings about contraception, sex education and safer sex. The results were eye-opening:
• In Europe, only half of respondents receive sex education from school, compared to three-quarters across Latin America, Asia-Pacific and the U.S.
• More than a third of respondents in Egypt believe bathing or showering after sex will prevent pregnancy, and more than a quarter of those in Thailand and India believe that having intercourse during menstruation is an effective form of contraception.
• Among young people, unprotected sex with new partners had increased over the last three years by 111 percent in France, 39 percent in the U.S. and 19 percent in Britain.
This much is clear: Both in the U.S. and abroad, people still have a lot to learn.
(Photo: Alexander Tamargo/Getty Images)