Here’s a fun dinner table theme to tender as you and your loved ones gather for the holidays: the risks of teenagers having sex. Imagine it: “Aunt Mabel, did you know that 47% of high schools students have had sex, but only 22% have ever been tested for HIV?”
Parenting teenagers can, at times, feel like a hamster running on a wheel. We move as frantically as we can to stay ahead of teenaged trends in technology, drinking, drugs and sexual experimentation. But no matter how fast we move our feet, we can’t keep track of every move teenagers make. In fact, research shows that when we parents become overly focused on the latest teen risk factor, we neglect to protect our kids against more established problems.
The focus for parents of teenagers lately has been sexual assault, trafficking, online sexual predators, and relationship abuse. October, which is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, was chock full of It’s On Us messages from the White House, and “Because I Love You” PSAs. CNN just aired the outstanding, shocking documentary about rape on college campuses, The Hunting Ground. Relationship violence and sexual assault impact 16-24 year olds disproportionately, and all parents should educate our kids about these long-taboo realities.
But we shouldn’t neglect more commonplace, and even more common, sexually related dangers.
Charlie Sheen’s November 17th Today Show revelation that he is HIV-positive was a prime wake up call for sexually active teens (and their parents).
The good news is that, although there is no cure for AIDS, HIV is no longer the killer it once was, due to powerful anti-viral suppression drugs. But teenagers in particular need to be very cautious about unprotected sex. Americans ages 13 to 24 account for an estimated 26% of all new HIV infections in the United States, nearly 10,000 young people (aged 13-24) were diagnosed with HIV infection in the United States in 2013, and over 50% of young people with HIV in the United States do not know they are infected.
Unprotected teenage sex constitutes a massive health problem and expense. High school students surveyed in 2013 reported that 47% had had sexual intercourse, 34% had had sexual intercourse during the previous 3 months, and, of these, 41% did not use a condom the last time they had sex. Fifteen percent had had sex with four or more people during their life. Only 22% of sexually experienced students had ever been tested for HIV.
Of course, it’s not just HIV infection that teenagers need to worry about. Sex makes teens vulnerable to other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and unintended pregnancy. Nearly half of the 20 million new STDs each year were among people ages of 15 to 24. One in four sexually active adolescent females have an STD, such as chlamydia or human papillomavirus (HPV). Compared with older adults, sexually active adolescents aged 15–19 years and young adults aged 20–24 years are at higher risk of acquiring STDs for a combination of behavioral, biological, and cultural reasons.
The good news is that although roughly 273,000 babies were born to teen girls aged 15–19 in 2013, teen pregnancy rates are at historic lows. The 2013 teen birth rate indicates a decline of ten percent from 2012; the teen birth rate has declined continuously over the past 20 years. Still, the U.S. teen birth rate is higher than that of many other developed countries, including Canada and the United Kingdom.
The way to decrease the risks of teen STDs and pregnancy is fairly straightforward, but difficult for many parents: talking to kids about their sex lives. Many experts believe the reduction in teen pregnancy has come because parents talk far more openly with teenagers about sexuality and pregnancy prevention than in prior generations, and that adults assist teenagers in obtaining birth control. Contrary to some adults’ beliefs, the teens don’t stop exploring sex when adult forbid it or shame them. Unfortunately, this often leads to more teen pregnancy and other consequences of unprotected sex.
Aren’t you so happy you read this? Now share the joy with your teenagers and relatives!