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Researchers report more condom use among teenagers
Question of the Day
WASHINGTON — More high school students are using condoms than 20 years ago — but progress has stalled with a lot of work still needed to protect young people from the AIDS virus, government researchers reported Tuesday.
Today, 4 of every 10 new HIV infections occur in people younger than 30, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — and the teen years, just as youths become sexually active, are key for getting across the safe-sex message.
Using a long-standing survey of high school students’ health, the CDC tracked how teen sexual behavior has changed over 20 years. The results are decidedly mixed.
About 60 percent of sexually active high school students say they used a condom the last time they had sex, researchers said Tuesday at the International AIDS Conference. That’s an improvement from the 46 percent who were using condoms in 1991.
“This is good news,” said Dr. Kevin Fenton, director of CDC’s HIV prevention center. But, “we need to do a lot more.”
The problem: Condom use reached a high of 63 percent back in 2003.
Black students are most likely to heed the safe-sex message, yet their condom use dropped from a high of 70 percent in 1999 to 65 percent last year, the study found.
If mom and dad get antsy about discussing condoms, well, about half of high school students have had sex, a proportion that hasn’t changed much over the two decades, the CDC reported. Today, 47 percent say they’ve had sex, down just a bit from 54 percent in 1991. Again, black teens made the most progress, with 60 percent sexually active today compared with 82 percent two decades ago.
The average age when teens begin having sex: 16, CDC said.
The more partners, the more risk. Fifteen percent of high school students say they’ve had four or more partners, down from 19 percent in 1991.
Fenton said part of the problem is that many school systems don’t have strong enough sex education policies that include teaching teens about how to prevent HIV. But he cautioned that the CDC study can’t link the abstinence-only policies pushed by Congress through the late 1990s and early 2000s to the stalled progress.
Focusing on individual risk behaviors is just part of the story. Increasingly, HIV is an infection of the poor, and specialists at the world’s largest AIDS meeting all week are making the point that tackling it globally will require broader efforts to address problems of poverty including better access to overall health services and fighting stigma.
In the U.S., where new infections have stubbornly held at about 50,000 a year for a decade, complacency is part of the problem, Fenton added.
“We have to generate a new sense of urgency,” he said.
Overall, though, a characteristic of the young is to think they’re invincible, Fenton added.
By Michael P. Orsi
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