The National Adolescent Health Information Center (NAHIC) has just released a new fact sheet on Reproductive Health in Adolescents and Young Adults that had mixed news. On one hand, the adolescent pregnancy rates have decreased, as have the number of teens who initiate sexual activity. However, in my mind that does not balance the facts that the prevalence of chlamydia is over six times higher for females than their male peers and that females account for more than half of the HIV cases among adolescents.
About one in five sexually active adolescents becomes pregnant each year (2/3 of whom are 18-19 years old), about 61% of 12th graders are having sex, but only 58% of them are using condoms (reported for last intercourse). On top of that, teens and young adults continue to have multiple sex partners, and young women continue to pick partners that are older than themselves, both of which are risk factors for sexually transmitted infections.
Some of our teens are choosing to become sexually active when they are too young and obviously not equipped with the skills or knowledge to protect themselves from pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. Pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections, and HIV are very preventable. Somehow we have to get teens to understand that they are not ready to become sexually active unless they are able to have a conversation with their partner about the risk of pregnancy and disease, and then effectively protect themselves from both.
Effective protection means if female, they have had their HPV vaccine, that they are using a reliable method of birth control, AND they are using condoms to protect themselves from as many sexually transmitted diseases as possible.