Statistics Suggest That Young People in Some U.S. States Are Avoiding Unsafe Sex: But It May Not Be for the Best Reasons
August 29, 2006
The topic of oral sex among U.S. teens has been publicized from Oprah's talk show to the Atlantic Monthly. Male adult and teen oral sex recipients have risen from about 25 percent of patients in 1990 to 75-80 percent at the clinic of Jonathan Zenilman, professor at Baltimore's Johns Hopkins University. Among his female patients, oral sex recipients have also increased from about 25 percent to 75-80 percent.
Are U.S. teens switching to oral sex, perceiving the HIV/STD odds from it are safer than for intercourse? Economics suggests that when the price of penetrative sex rises, teens would seek substitutes. CDC reports that the proportion of U.S. teen virgins has increased 15 percent since the early 1990s, and among those who are having sex, there is a trend toward contraceptives that also protect against STDs: Contraceptive pill use declined by one-fifth, and condom use rose by more than one-third.
Researchers put the theory to a test in a study of states that have enacted abortion notification laws, in which teens who become pregnant must get their parent's permission to receive an abortion. Would rational teens engage in less risky sex, relative to adults, in states with abortion notification laws?
When states enact notification laws, gonorrhea rates in the teenage and adult populations diverge, according to researchers Thomas Stratmann and Jonathan Klick. This suggests that teens cut back on unprotected sex as abortion services become more difficult to access, and that one of the most serious consequences of an unwanted pregnancy is perceived to be that parents will it find out.
Financial Times (London)
08.26.2006; Tim Harford
This article was provided by U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update. Visit the CDC's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.