TEEN SEX: USA Today Examines Risky Behaviors
USA Today takes a look at teenage risk-taking, including unprotected sex and other behaviors that can lead to HIV infection. According to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey, "[v]irtually all deaths due to injuries and HIV are preventable ... [y]et HIV in America is increasingly an epidemic of the young," with 50% of the new 40,000 HIV infections each year affecting those under 25. Of the 37,000 fatalities among young people each year, approximately 10,000 are due to murder, suicide or the complications of AIDS. And, according to the CDC, "teens account for more than 1 million unintended pregnancies and 3 million cases of sexually transmitted diseases each year." The traditional explanation for teen behavior has been "that adolescence is a time of risk-taking and pleasure-seeking, of symbolic declarations of independence by youthful rebels who reject their parents' guidance." However, "a consensus has emerged among public health officials, educators and others that adolescents owe much of the turmoil they experience to profound cultural changes," such as less-structured home environments and "a media culture that extols sex and excitement" (see Kaiser Daily Reproductive Health Report, 9/24).
Despite the alarming statistics, there are some signs that "many adolescents recognize that what once might have seemed to be an acceptable risk might now have fatal consequences." The CDC study found that "sexual activity has declined among high school students for the first time in two decades ... fewer high school students report having sex with a series of partners and ... more are using condoms." At a CDC-sponsored seminar on HIV prevention and health, a group of students and experts on adolescent behavior discussed three key factors involved in improving the overall health of adolescents:
- "Parents must act as positive role models" and become comfortable talking about "sexuality, including teen pregnancy, HIV prevention and contraception";
- Education efforts in schools are key but are "complicated by the politics of public education";
- Many parents "prefer morally rigorous abstinence-only education," but that approach "fails to give [teens] the tools needed ... to guard against risks," according to Thomas Coates of the University of California-San Francisco, because "[m]any teens become sexually active before they reach health education classes in the eighth grade" (Sternberg, 10/5).