CDC: High-Risk Teen Sex Declining, but Sex Ed Cuts Worrisome

CDC data presented on Tuesday show just 47 percent of high school students have ever had sex, down from 54 percent in 1991 and holding steady since about 2001. Much progress has been seen among black students: in 1991, 82 percent of black high school students had started having sex but this plummeted to 60 percent by 2011. Just 15 percent of all students have had more four or more sex partners, down from 19 percent in 1991.

And 60 percent of those who are sexually active used a condom, which can protect against pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases including the human immunodeficiency virus that causes AIDS....

The CDC's Dr. Kevin Fenton says it's the frank talk about sex that works. "The more comprehensive an education you provide, the better," Fenton said in an interview. But he noted there is variation across the country, with some school districts choosing abstinence-only education while others offer a full curriculum that includes discussion of lesbian gay and transgender themes as well as how to respect one another in a relationship.

Budget cuts aren't helping. "Data show that fewer schools provide the comprehensive HIV education needed to ensure that this trajectory continues," Fenton said. Another barrier: socially conservative movements that reject sex education. Fenton is diplomatic when he is asked about school districts and parents who fear that sex education teaches poor morals.

"Part of what we are committed to doing is to provide evidence," he said. "We try to make our recommendations on the best available evidence." Studies show that a comprehensive sex education program can influence sexual behavior more than a limited approach.

Image: Condom, via Shutterstock

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