To many, the idea of using a condom seems obvious. The mantras have been repeated in health classes and locker rooms alike, and commercials for condom brands appear everywhere from billboards to between songs on Spotify. But despite the popular marketing, the well-known brands, or even the free resources provided by schools and clinics across the country, condom use among teens and young adults remains inconsistent.
According to recent statistics from the CDC, rates of condom use among American teens has been hovering steadily for a decade around the all-time high of 63%, if not declining slightly among some demographics. This statistic may seem ineffective, but gains some ground when coupled with the fact that teenage pregnancy rates are at an all-time low (that is, since the CDC has been keeping record of the American birthrate 73 years ago). These facts at first seem contradictory, until you consider the prevalence of other forms of birth control, such as hormonal options that teens can get without money or parental consent.
In the 2006-2010 National Survey of Family Growth, the National Center for Health Statistics found that almost 80% of both boys and girls used condoms during their first sexual experience. However, this statistic seems to be short-lived, and only 49% of girls and 66.5% of boys reported that they had used a condom each time they had sex in the past 4 weeks. Some experts have developed a potential explanation: Protection against pregnancy is far outranking protection against STIs on a list of adolescent concerns. It seems that teens are using condoms during their early sexual encounters, before a switching to a less-visible birth control method over time, when contracting an STI from a new sexual partner is less of a fear.
If you’re still finding it difficult to see past the good news of declining teen pregnancies, consider the rates of STIs among teens and young adults. The CDC estimates that there are over 110 million STIs among men and women nationwide. They also estimate that half of all new STI infections, including Syphilis, Chlamydia, Gonorrhea and HPV, occur among 15-24 year olds. So, the dwindling rates of teen pregnancy come at a price, leaving many teens vulnerable to STIs.
When talking to your teens about sex, remind them that condoms prevent more than just pregnancy—a claim that other methods of birth control can’t make. But before we sound the alarm, let’s focus on the positive: Teens are listening—they just don’t seem to be hearing all of it. If you choose to talk to your teens about practicing safe sex, which we encourage you to do, check out our post on how to have “the talk” as painlessly as possible, or our three favorite cringe-proof sex ed resources.
How do you talk to your teens about safe sex? Any advice for other parents or educators? Leave your tips in the comments below.