June 24, 2014
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has conducted the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance (YRBS) survey every other year since 1991. The current edition, Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance -- United States, 2013, contains data collected between September 2012 and December 2013 and was published in the June 13, 2014, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Some highlights are:
The number of students who are no longer virgins has dropped to less than half (46.8%) of those surveyed (from 54.1% in 1991). Roughly a third (34%) of the 46.8% are currently sexually active. The (somewhat) good news: More than half (59.1%) use condoms. The bad news: Condom use has dropped by almost 4% since its peak of 63% in 2003. Black teens are more likely to use them (64.7%) than are Latinos (58.3%) or whites (57.1%).
Reported forced sex has held steady at 7.3% overall, with girls more than twice as likely as boys to have been raped (10.5% versus 4.2%). The survey did not distinguish date rape from other forms of unwanted sexual advances by dating partners, but among the 73.9% of students who reported going on a date during the 12 months prior to the survey, 14.4% of the young women and 6.2% of the young men reported sexual dating violence of some kind (everything from unwanted kisses to forced intercourse).
Similarly, physical dating violence -- defined as being hit, slammed into things, etc. by a dating partner -- has not changed significantly over time and still stands at 10.3% overall, with young women more likely to be the victims of such behavior than young men (13.0% versus 7.4%).
HIV and AIDS education in school has also declined. In 1997, 91.5% of students learned about HIV at school. In 2013, only 85.3% did.
Even though almost 40% of sexually active teens have had unprotected sex, only 12.9% of survey participants have ever been tested for HIV, with black students testing at higher rates (19.8%) than Latinos (12.8%) or whites (10.7%). Young women were more likely to have been tested (14.6%) than were young men (11.2%).
Injection drug use has not changed much, either (1.7% in 2013, with 2.2% of young men reporting such use compared to 1.3% of young women). A quarter (25.9%) of the sexually active young men also used drugs or drank alcohol before their last sexual intercourse, another behavior that has not changed over time.
This national survey of 13,583 students in grades 9-12 in regular public and private schools did not ask about sexual preference/identity, but some states and large urban school districts have collected such data in connection with the YRBS survey. In 2011, the CDC published an analysis of that data as Sexual Identity, Sex of Sexual Contacts and Health-Risk Behaviors Among Students in Grades 9-12 -- Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance, Selected Sites, United States, 2001-2009.
Barbara Jungwirth is a freelance writer and translator based in New York.
Follow Barbara on Twitter: @reliabletran.