by Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
A new government study has found that in the past 17 years, there has been an overall decrease in risky sexual behaviors among U.S. teens.
The study, published in the July 31 issue of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, a publication of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, found that the number of teens having sexual intercourse or multiple sex partners have been dropping since 1991.
“Progress has been made in the last 17 years in decreasing kids’ risk for HIV- and STD-related infections,” said study co-author Laura Kann, chief of CDC’s Surveillance and Evaluation Research Branch in the Division of Adolescent School Health to U.S. News and World Report.
During this 17 year period, the prevalence of sexual experience among teens dropped from 54.1 percent to 47.8 percent; the prevalence of having multiple sexual partners decreased from 18.7 percent to 14.9 percent; and the prevalence of current sexual activity went down 7 percent, from 37.5 percent to 35 percent.
But some groups haven’t seen a decrease in risky sexual behavior, Kann added. “For example, black students still have the highest prevalence of sexual experience with multiple sex partners and current sexual activity than any of the other subgroups,” she said, noting that the prevalence of sexual experience among black students hasn’t decreased since 2001.
Risky behaviors among Hispanic students have also failed to decline, Kann added. “Among Hispanic students, we didn’t see any changes since 1991 in sexual experience, multiple partners or current sexual activity.”
More effort is needed to reach black and Hispanic male students, Kann said. “We need to focus on our efforts on these groups in particular, but not to the exclusion of everyone else,” she said.
Parents and young people need to understand the significant risks involved in risky sexual behaviors, which include much more than physical risks. Ground breaking science about the long term negative emotional effects of teen sex has also emerged from the National Institute of Health.
“Studies show that when adolescents are involved in sex, they are more likely to be depressed,” said Joe S. McIlhaney, M.D. founder of the Medical Institute for Sexual Health, on a recent episode of ABC’s News Now.
“Girls and boys who are sexually active are three times more likely to be depressed than their virginal counterparts. Girls are three times more likely to attempt suicide and boys are seven times more likely to attempt suicide if they started having sex,” Dr. McIlhaney said.
Scientists have discovered neurological reasons why this connection between sex and depression occurs, particularly in today’s teen population who engage in a type of casual sex known as “hooking up” or “friends with benefits.”
When girls are involved in sexual contact, their brains secrete a chemical known as oxytocin which makes them bond to their partner. Boys secrete a similar substance which also makes them bond to their partner.
Casual sex short-circuits this natural process.
“These things are happening in their brains but the kids are just not aware of it,” Dr. McIlhany said. In addition to leaving them depressed, “It can also make them addicted to sex and make them want to continue that risky behavior which creates real problems for them.”
McIlhaney has co-authored a book, Hooked: New Science on How Casual Sex is Affecting our Children which explains this process to parents and helps them understand what they can do about it.
“What parents need to understand is that in every survey we’ve seen of kids through college age, parents are the primary motivator of their kid’s behavior,” he said. “And not just in regards to sex, drugs and alcohol and other behaviors too.”
In one study he cited, scientists have found that “if parents are there with their kids at breakfast, when they come home from school, at supper, and then at bedtime, their children are much less likely to be involved in alcohol, drugs, sex, violence and all those other behaviors.”
The good news is that parents can definitely help reduce the instance of risky behaviors in their children. “It’s not like kids will always go what their parents guide them to,” Dr. McIlhaney said, “but more kids will avoid those behaviors if the parents are involved with them.”
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