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Youth Survey Present Mixed Picture of Sexual Behaviors

On June 8, 2006, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released the 2005 Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS).

The survey is done at the national, state, and local level every two years among high school students in the United States. In addition to questions about sexual behaviors, the YRBS also asks about activities and attitudes towards such things as violence, tobacco, alcohol, drug use, diet, and physical activity. In 2005, almost 14,000 students from 40 states and 21 large urban school districts participated in the YRBS. States and localities are able to modify the questions to fit their own needs, though the majority do not.

Since the survey first began in 1991, the percentage of high school students who have ever had sexual intercourse has declined 7 percent from 54 percent in 1991 to 47 percent in 2005. In addition, condom use among high school students at last intercourse increased from 46 percent in 1991 to 62.8 percent in 2005.1 While these trends are certainly positive, some disturbing results indicate that this progress may be slowing and does not include all young people.

For the first time since 1991, condom use among students at last sexual intercourse has not increased. While the survey does not posit a reason for this, advocates question if the federal government's ideological and financial support for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs, which can only discuss the failure rates of condoms and contraception, are starting to take their toll.

“This new data shows that we must examine what has changed for today's young people and question why we did not see a continued positive trend in condom use,” Monica Rodriguez, vice president for education and training at SIECUS said. “Specifically, this calls into question the federal government's one billion dollar investment in abstinence-only-until-marriage programs, many of which openly discourage condom use,” Rodriguez concluded.

Among these federally funded abstinence-only-until-marriage programs include statements such as this one in Me, My World, My Future : “The first player spins the cylinder, points the gun to his/her head, and pulls the trigger. He/she has only one in six chances of being killed. But if one continues to perform this act, the chamber with the bullet will ultimately fall into position under the hammer, and the game ends as one of the players dies. Relying on condoms is like playing Russian roulette.”2

The survey also revealed sharp differences in sexual behaviors among ethnic and racial groups. For example, Black students are more likely than Hispanic and white students to have ever had sexual intercourse; 67.6% of Black students reported ever having had sexual intercourse, as compared to 51% and 43% of Hispanic and white students, respectively. On the other hand, among sexually active students, Hispanic students are much more likely not to use a condom. In fact, 42.3% of Hispanic students report not using a condom at last intercourse as compared to 31.1% of Black and 36.4% of white students.

Advocates called for examination of these findings. “We need further research to find out why racial and ethnic differences continue to exist and help us create effective ways to address them,” Rodriguez explained.

To view the entire YRBS, please see: http://www.cdc.gov/HealthyYouth/yrbs/index.htm.

References

  1. Danice K. Eaton, et. al., “Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance— United States, 2005,” Surveillance Summaries, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, vol. 55, no. SS-5 ( 9 June 2006 ): 1-108, accessed 8 June 2006, <http://www.cdc.gov/HealthyYouth/yrbs/index.htm>.
  2. Me, My World, My Future, Revised HIV material, p. 258.

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