(No) Condom Culture: Why Teens Aren’t Practicing Safe Sex

The percentage of young people using condoms has stalled, while STD rates are on the rise

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There were certain things that the 1990s just did better — including getting the word out about the dangers of unprotected sex.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the percentage of American students using condoms hit its peak at around 60% a decade ago, and has stalled since then, even declining among some demographics. A recent study released by the Sex Information and Education Council of Canada found that nearly 50% of sexually active college students aren’t using condoms. Other reports have found that while teenagers are likely to use a condom the first time they have sex, their behavior becomes inconsistent after that.

Health officials from Oregon to Georgia are ringing alarm bells about rising rates of sexually transmitted diseases, worried that kids aren’t getting the message. Sex education is more robust than it was for previous generations, but a 2012 Guttmacher Institute report revealed that while nearly 90% of high schools are teaching students about abstinence and STDs, fewer than 60% are providing lessons about contraception methods.

The CDC estimates that half of new STD infections occur among young people. Americans ages 15 to 24 contract chlamydia and gonorrhea at four times the rate of the general population, and those in their early 20s have the highest reported cases of syphilis and HIV. Young men and women are more likely than older people to report having no sex in the past year, yet those who are having sex are more likely to have multiple partners, which increases the risk of STDs.

“We need to do better as a nation,” says Laura Kann, an expert in youth risk behaviors at the CDC. “Far too many kids in this country continue to be infected with HIV and continue to be at risk.”

When condom-usage rates were on the upswing in the ’90s, America was in the midst of an AIDS epidemic that was claiming young lives daily. The fear of the disease gave heft to safe-sex campaigns. Today, public-health officials are partly a victim of their own success; contemporary teenagers grew up after the terror had subsided, thanks to antiviral drugs and those messages that helped bring infection rates down. “The young people today know HIV as a manageable, chronic disease,” Kann says. “It’s not something that can kill you in their eyes. So that leads, most likely, to an attitude that it’s not something that they have to protect themselves from.”

In Oregon’s Lane County, senior health official Patrick Luedtke is in the midst of confronting an ongoing gonorrhea outbreak, with rates jumping as much as 40% in recent years. Like Kann, he believes complacency is a large part of the problem. “People don’t have the fear of death from sex like they had 15 years ago,” he says. “For the teenagers, that fear is gone, and people are not practicing safe sex as much as they used to.”

Other research collected by the CDC shows that some schools aren’t hammering away at the safe-sex lessons like they once did. In Alabama, Alaska and Florida, for instance, fewer public schools are teaching teenagers how to obtain condoms and why it’s important to use condoms. “Schools have competing health issues that they’re asked to deal with, things like tobacco use, bullying, the obesity epidemic. It’s been hard to keep attention focused on HIV and STD prevention,” Kann says. “This complacency issue [is not] unique to just youth themselves.” Last week, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a policy statement supporting better access to condoms for teenagers, saying schools are still hesitant to provide them because of an enduring fear that access to condoms will make kids have more sex.

Public institutions beyond schools have had setbacks too. Budget cuts in Oregon meant that Luedtke’s county closed its STD clinic. “People don’t stop having sex because of the bad economy,” he says. “Where are the resources?”

Even in places where there’s money and free condoms to go around, health departments haven’t necessarily seen safe sex go viral. New York City health officials are reporting that only 1 in 3 adult residents uses protection, despite years of PSAs and prophylactic handouts under Mayor Michael Bloomberg. While condom use among young people in New York City is slightly up since 2009, that puts it on par with the stagnant nationwide average.

Kann says there are broader societal factors at work too, ones that disproportionately affect African-American youth. Compared with the population as a whole, their parents are less educated and have lower incomes, both factors that have been linked to sexually risky behaviors, including having unprotected sex. Adolescents who postpone sex have parents who are more educated. Lower incomes, meanwhile, are associated with factors like parents working multiple jobs, which can mean kids are left home alone without a watchful eye to factor into their decisionmaking.

Some research has suggested that sexually active Americans simply assume their partner is free of STDs, and an infected partner may be unaware, given that diseases like “silent” chlamydia often don’t have obvious symptoms. And there is a perception — if not a diehard belief — that using condoms makes sex less pleasurable. That’s why Bill Gates challenged designers earlier this year to create a better-feeling condom that sexually active people might be more likely to use.

While it’s hardly a sexy, revolutionary proposition like remaking the condom, Kann says the key to driving condom use higher is more education. Canada’s survey, for instance, was revealing about how relatively unimportant the students considered STDs. Those who used condoms were much more likely to cite pregnancy than STDs as their main concern; 54% said their single motivation for using protection was birth control, while just 6% cited STDs as their sole reason.

“It’s really critical for kids to know about their risk,” Kann says. “They need to know how to get tested. They need to know how to prevent infection. And we can’t do that alone here at CDC. We’re going to need action not only by this agency but also by parents, by schools and communities.”

359 comments
www.bulksmsbase.com
www.bulksmsbase.com

"Health officials from Oregon to Georgia are ringing alarm bells about rising rates of sexually transmitted diseases, worried that kids aren’t getting the message. Sex education is more robust than it was for previous generations", and should be continued because there so many diseases than before.

ChandraZarembinski
ChandraZarembinski

For so many teenagers, they feel like "it can't happen to me."  There is such a simple easy step to help prevent STD and unwanted pregnancies.  I just don't understand why more teenagers don't realize this is life saving.

TehReeUhSeh
TehReeUhSeh

Also with the rise of Plan B, a lot of teens (who aren't always the smartest of the bunch) choose Plan B as their contraceptive of choice. It doesn't matter that Plan B is exactly what it is named, Plan B when contraceptive fails. Funny how people would argue that Plan B would always remain emergency contraceptive, even if available over the counter. One of the reasons why it is better to play it safe than create change for the sake of change. 

cansand999
cansand999

How many of you fools that don't wear a condoms think you cant get HIV or a STD? And how may of you will support the child you create? How many of you guys are dumb enough to think a girl is always truthful.  How many of you girls are afraid that if you say no that he just will not go else where. Do you think this guy is going to stand by you if you get pregnant or infected. Guys Think with your big head,. Girl don't be so dumb

cansand999
cansand999

because that don't think with their right head. Times have change   but people haven't  AID is not just a Gay thing  Fool

Lestat70
Lestat70

My seniors told me, first sex should be skin to skin contact. So, i believe no one is using condom. 

WilliamBramblett
WilliamBramblett

Good lord, you make it sound so complicated.  Teens know, as does everyone else, that sex without condoms feels far better than with them… no comparison!  

notmyshametobear
notmyshametobear

There is so much coverage on teen moms these days, especially on MTV, that getting pregnant isn't as scary for teens as it used to be. Not that we want to scare them straight or anything, but I think that the threat of a baby isn't as much of a scare tactic when it comes to safe sex these days.

http://itisnotmyshametobear.blogspot.com/

azop12try
azop12try

Use a 'jimmy' one time and you'll know why kids don't use them.

jeffspicoli666
jeffspicoli666

Another stupid, over sensational article that future proves Time Magazine is detached from the modern world and I can't believe to imagine why anyone who isn't living in 1994 would be interested in anything Time has to say. Certainly can't think of anyone in my generation who read Time magazine... 

IllBeThatGuy
IllBeThatGuy

Too bad the STDs aren't lethal. Then we'd have a die off of all the stupid kids before they were old enough to use that stupidity for the detriment of humanity....

And no, I don't care how you feel about what I just said, so bother trying to shame me or whatever. You're probably one of the people I'm talking about.

VincentVonDudler
VincentVonDudler

@IllBeThatGuy Too bad all STDs haven't been cured yet.  

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drzivnuska
drzivnuska

The teenage birth rate is the lowest in over 50 years.  It was 96.3 in 1957 and was a record low 29.4 last year.  In 1957, we had god in our schools and abstinance only sex education.

marksinghy2k
marksinghy2k

well in India a quiet revolution has started.. Condoms are very been used a lot. girls are seen buying it to be safe from HIV/STD/unwanted  Preg... 

Wonder what's wrong with West and Catholics. 

vrome
vrome

@marksinghy2k  I don't know about India, but it's not like American teens are sleeping with prostitutes.  They don't have the money to do that.  And I'm sure if they were screwing hookers, they would use a condom.  


According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention fact sheet on STD's, 72% of all new cases of syphilis are in homosexuals.  With all the sex going on, it's still quite rare for a heterosexual teen to get syphilis, even if the number for teens contracting it is 4 times the rate of senior citizens contracting it.


As for HPV, the warts and cancers associated with it are being eradicated by vaccine in the American teen population.  I bet most won't ever see someone with a genital wart in their lifetime. 


As for HIV, the chance of a women contracting HIV from an infected partner through vaginal sex is about 6.5 in 10,000.  That is according to the British Medical Journal. BMJ 1992;304(6830):809-813.  That's quite a bit of sex and very low odds for contracting this disease.  In the US, effective treatment has lowered the viral load in infected people, often to undetectable levels, thereby reducing transmitability.  In addition, most teen males in the US are circumcised, which also reduces transmitability.


The bottom line is this:  many American teens aren't practicing safe sex because they don't know of anyone personally who has ever had syphilis, HIV or HPV.  And chlamydia and HSV-1 and HSV-2 frequently do not give any symptoms or discomfort so they would never know they had  been exposed to it.  So why use a condom?

IllBeThatGuy
IllBeThatGuy

Kids are getting dumber with machines to do the thinking for them.

vrome
vrome

@KhalilA.R.Kersey @vrome @marksinghy2k  As I stated earlier, HPV is prevented by vaccine, so why get tested for a disease you can't get if you have vaccinated, as recommended by the US CDC for all teens?


According to the CDC fact sheet on herpes, in the US, males contract herpes about half as much as women.  And most of the males with active herpes infections are  homosexuals.  And as I stated earlier, herpes is generally asymptomatic in people with normal immune systems, so why get tested for something that doesn't harm you and gives you no symptoms?