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Condom Use Up Among High School Students, According to New National Survey

In May, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Summaries – United States, 2003, more commonly referred to as the YRBS. The YRBS monitors six categories of health-risk behaviors among high school students, including sexual behavior. Overall, trends in sexual behavior among high school students have been positive over the last 12 years: the number of high school students who report having ever engaged in sexual intercourse declined from 54 percent in 1991 to 47 percent in 2003 and condom use at last intercourse among currently sexually active high school students increased from 46 percent in 1991 to 63 percent in 2003.

"The overall decline in sexual activity-though up slightly this year-and increase in condom use among high school students since 1991 is a healthy and positive trend, but we still have a long way to go," said Bill Smith, Director of Public Policy at the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the U.S. (SIECUS). "Parents, lawmakers, community leaders, and educators must recommit themselves to giving young people what they want and deserve- the medically accurate sexual health information, communication skills, and relationship skills they need to become sexually healthy adults," Smith continued.

According to the YRBS, sexual activity among high school students increased 1.1 percent, from 45.6 percent in 2001 to 46.7 percent in 2003. This is the first increase in sexual activity since the survey began in 1991. In some states this increase was even greater. Indiana and Kentucky, for example, both had five percent increases.

The total percentage of high school students who have engaged in sexual intercourse by graduation remains high. The study showed that by 12th grade, more than 61 percent of high school youth have had sexual intercourse (62 percent of girls and 60 percent of boys).

Since 1998, federal and state governments have poured nearly $900 million into abstinence-only-until-marriage programs that are prohibited from discussing the health benefits of contraception or condoms. To date, none of these programs have been proven to be effective and certain types of abstinence-only-until-marriage interventions may actually cause harm. President Bush is seeking to pump an additional $270 million into these unproven programs as part of his election year bid.

"After almost $1 billion in taxpayer dollars spent on promoting abstinence-only-until-marriage programs, we are still finding that over 60 percent of high school seniors have had sexual intercourse," said Smith. "This new data shows that we need to reexamine what and how we are teaching our youth to ensure they have the information and skills they need to delay sexual intercourse," he continued.

In good news, the YRBS showed that condom use among currently sexually active high school students has increased from 57.9 percent in 2001 to 63 percent in 2003. In some states, the increase was even greater. In New York, for instance, there was an 8.5 percent increase in condom use among currently sexually active high school students and in North Dakota there was a 7.3 percent increase.

"Increased condom use among sexually active high school students is excellent news. It reaffirms that young people can and do make responsible decisions about their sexual health," said Smith. "Many abstinence-only-until-marriage programs provide inaccurate and harmful messages designed to undermine condom use and it is heartening to see that young people are rejecting that message," Smith continued.

For more information, please see the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance – United States, 2003.