Fewer US high school students having sex and using drugs, study shows

Some students and community members supported Kluge (MARTIN BUREAU/AFP/Getty Images)

Sex and drug use is on the decline among high school students in the US, a new survey has found.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention poll, which assessed risky behaviours among youth, found 39.5 percent of students polled had ever had sex, a fall from 47.8 percent in 2007.

In 2017, 9.7 percent of students had four or more sexual partners, down from 14.9 percent a decade ago.

However, a lower percentage of students who engage in sex reported using condoms. Only 53.8 percent of those polled said they had used a condom when they last had sex, compared to 61.5 percent in 2007.

Although the percentage of students who reported ever using illicit drugs was down from 23 percent in 2007 to 14 percent in 2017 – defined as cocaine, heroin, methamphetamines, inhalants, hallucinogens or ecstasy – around one in seven (14 percent) reported misusing prescription opioids.

“The health of our youth reflects the nation’s well-being,” said CDC director Robert Redfield.

“In the past decade, there have been substantial improvements in the behaviours that put students most at risk for HIV and sexually transmitted diseases.

“However, we can’t yet declare success when so many young people are getting HIV and STDs, and experiencing disturbingly high rates of substance use, violence, and suicide.”

The survey also showed substantial rates of feelings of sadness or hopelessness among students.

Across the US, one in five students reported being bullied at school and 31.5 percent of students said they had felt sad or hopeless in 2017, compared to 28.5 percent in 2007.

The prevalence of having felt sad or hopeless was higher among gay, lesbian and bisexual students (63 percent), compared to 27 percent of heterosexual pupils.

Nationwide, 17.2 percent of students had seriously considered attempting suicide during the 12 months prior to the survey.

The percentage rose to 47.7 percent among gay, lesbian and bisexual students.

One in five students reported being bullied at school

Kathleen Ethier, director of CDC’s Division of Adolescent and School Health, said: “We know that being connected to schools and safe adults is key to protecting the health of adolescents.

“Students are more likely to thrive if they feel safe and have a sense of belonging – and if they have parents, adults, teachers, and friends who they know care about their success.”

This week, Republican senator Orrin Hatch addressed the US Senate about suicide prevention among LGBT youth.

“The suicide epidemic has touched all sectors of our society, but the problem is particularly acute among LGBT youth, who experience bullying and discrimination at every turn,” Hatch said, advocating a three-number suicide prevention hotline,” he said.

He added: “LGBT youth deserve our unwavering love and support. They deserve our validation and the assurance that not only is there a place for them in this society, but that it is far better off because of them.”