Fewer teenagers are having sex, and those who are sexually active are more likely to discuss pregnancy and STD prevention.
Those findings in the 2019 Minnesota Student Survey are positives for advocates on all sides of the abstinence-versus-safe sex debate. The rate of high school juniors who ever had sex dipped from 37% in 2013 to 34% in 2019, while the rate of sexually active students who discussed pregnancy prevention with partners increased from 66% to 74%.
“It’s wonderful news,” said Jill Farris, an adolescent sexual health researcher and educator at the University of Minnesota.
The state survey, conducted every three years in more than 80% of public schools, doesn’t address why teen sex is declining. The state stopped asking in 2013 because the answers weren’t changing over time. That year, 46% of abstinent juniors said they refrained from sex because of pregnancy concerns, 39% said their parents would object, and 33% said they just hadn’t had the chance.
The trend fits a broader picture of teenagers avoiding risky activities such as alcohol or drug use, but feeling more anxiety. The survey showed that 36% of juniors worry a lot, and 16% have considered suicide.
Farris was concerned by the 16% of female juniors in the survey who said they had been tricked or forced into sex acts. Educators might need to “retool” their messages to emphasize healthy relationships, which might be harder for today’s stressed-out teenagers, especially as they spend more time online and less time face to face, she said.
The survey showed less concern or certainty over sexual orientation. In 2016, 90% of juniors said they were heterosexual. Only 80% said that in 2019 — partly because they were given more options such as bisexual or pansexual. Among juniors, 7% chose not to “describe myself in any of these ways.”
Farris said, “Young people are rejecting labels and saying ‘I am my own person.’ ”