Teens Need Access to Free Condoms and Sex Education, According to Doctors

According to a new report from the AAP, sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancies are "significant public health problems" among teens. Comprehensive sex education and access to barrier protection methods can help.

Teen pregnancy rate hits all-time low.
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Teenage pregnancy is at an all-time low, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), with a 2017 birth rate of 18.8 babies per 1,000 women aged 15–19 years old. But despite these promising statistics, adolescents are still putting themselves at risk for unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

"STIs, including new HIV infections, and unintended pregnancies among adolescents remain significant public health problems," according to an American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) report called "Barrier Protection Use by Adolescents During Sexual Activity," published July 2020 in Pediatrics.

Indeed, the CDC says that young people aged 15–24 years account for half of all new STI cases. What's more, about 25 percent of sexually active females in this age group have been diagnosed with an STI, such as human papillomavirus (HPV) or chlamydia.

The key to preventing this trend may be better access to birth control and comprehensive sex education. "Pediatricians are encouraged to address adolescent sexual and reproductive health on a routine basis, including with youth who have developmental or physical disabilities, by taking a sexual history, discussing healthy sexuality, performing an appropriate examination, providing patient-centered and age-appropriate anticipatory guidance, and delivering appropriate screenings and vaccinations," according to the report by the AAP.

It adds that providers should discuss barrier methods like external condoms (male condoms), internal condoms (female condoms), and dental dams with sexually active adolescents. They can also "encourage parents to talk about these issues" with their kids. Additionally, "pediatricians and other physicians may provide barrier education and free barrier methods within their offices and support efforts to increase availability within their communities," says the report.

It's important to note, however, that other forms of birth control may be more effective at preventing unwanted pregnancy. These include hormonal birth control pills and "long-acting reversible contraception" such as intrauterine devices (IUDs) and hormonal implants (Nexplanon). These options are highly effective with minimal side effects, and they're endorsed by organizations like the CDC, AAP, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

Unfortunately, though, many teens aren't fully informed about these long-acting reversible contraception—possibly because health care providers don't give them enough attention during counseling. Only 2 percent to 3 percent of sexually active adolescents use these forms of birth control today, says the AAP.

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