How Risky is Teen Sex?

American teenagers are still taking sexual risks

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) You might hope that teens have learned something over the past decade. Turns out that when it comes to safe sex, not much has changed – teens are still putting themselves at risk for HIV.

A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that efforts to reduce sexual risk-taking among teens has stalled out over the past ten years, with behavior remaining mostly the same.

But there's a piece of good news: African American teens had a dramatic drop in risky sexual behavior since the 1990s.

"Risky sexual behavior and HIV are related."

The analysis was conducted by the CDC and used data from their National Youth Risk Behavior Survey, a nationally representative biennial survey of public and private school students between the ages of 14 and 17.

Teenagers are considered to be at high risk for sexually transmitted infections like HIV. According to the CDC, four out of every 10 new HIV infections occur in people under the age of 30.

On average, teens start becoming sexually active at 16, said the report.

“Risk behavior remains far too high among all students, and it’s clear that to realize our goal of an AIDS-free generation, parents, schools and communities will need to intensify efforts to ensure that every young person in America knows about HIV and how to prevent infection,” said Dr. Kevin Fenton, director of CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD and Tuberculosis Prevention.

The past twenty years have narrowed the gap between black students and white students when it comes to risky sexual behavior. Back in 1991, black students were nearly two-thirds more likely to have had sex than white students, and almost three times as likely to have had multiple partners.

By 2011, the disparity of those who had sex was cut in half, and the likelihood of black students reporting multiple sex partners declined by 58 percent.

Black students were the only population whose participation in HIV education classes rose over two decades – from 84 percent in 1991 to 87 percent in 2011. They were also the most likely to use a condom during their last sexual encounter, but condom use has been declining in this group since 1999.

In fact, most of the progress noted in the report was made in the 90s. Since then, efforts have appeared to stall out.

The number of students who receive sex education and information about HIV in schools has declined since the 2000s due to cutbacks. Since 2001, there have been no significant changes in students who report having sex, or having multiple sexual partners, and the number who report using a condom has been the same since 2003.

“Our challenge is to build on the tremendous strides made by African American youth, while again jump starting the progress among youth overall,” Dr. Howell Wechsler, director of Adolescent and School Health at the CDC said in a statement. “We must also confront the persistent lack of progress among Hispanic and white students.”

The report did not account for the social and economic levels of the respondents, so the researchers were not able to include information about how that may affected the statistics.

The report was published in July 2012.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
July 26, 2012
Last Updated:
February 25, 2013