1 in 4 US teenage girls has an STD

I hate it when things happen when I’m out of touch. On Tuesday, March 11th, the CDC came out with a press release that 26% of US teen girls has an STD.

This headline (just like my blog post title) is being widely spread and highly freaked out over. But there’s more in the press release, and these points are not getting enough attention. The CDC further specifies that:

  • Actually, 1 in 4 teenage girls has one of the most common STDs (human papillomavirus (HPV), chlamydia, herpes simplex virus, and trichomoniasis). That means we’re not even talking about the many other less common, but still highly problematic STDs.
  • The “average” reported rate is not evenly distributed among racial groups. African American teen girls are infected at almost 50%, while Anglo teen girls are infected at about 20%.
  • Contraceptive services and STD services are both needed to help teenage girls get all the help they need, but few receive both kinds of services (38%). But even more depressingly, that 38% may be getting very poor quality services. Ridiculously, some of these programs can claim to be “contraceptive services” and still be lacking critical information like the connection between unprotected sex and pregnancy.

This is so depressing for so many reasons. But let’s hop over the negative, and talk about ways to address the multitude of problems this press release presents.

One potential solution that the CDC recommends is for public clinics to have an express visit option for STD testing. By allowing someone access to STD testing without requiring a doctor’s presence, far more tests can be done, and far more STD diagnosis can be made. At one NYC health clinic, 4,500 more individuals were tested for STDs, and diagnosis increased by 17%. Dramatic, yes? The CDC press release did not provide enough information about this potential solution. There’s no information about who would preform the tests, who would give the results, and at what point information about healthy and safe sexuality would be passed on.

However, what clearly needs to happen above all else is comprehensive sex education for everyone. The STD rates among Europe teenagers are far, far lower than US teenagers, and it’s not due to substantially lower sex engagement.

The radical difference between racial groups STD infection rates really struck me. Sexuality education is clearly a civil rights issue. We need to start talking about it in those terms.

How do you think we should respond to the CDC results?

About Karen Rayne

Dr. Karen Rayne has been supporting parents and families since 2007 when she received her PhD in Educational Psychology. A specialist in child wellbeing, Dr. Rayne has spent much of her career supporting parents, teachers, and other adults who care for children and teenagers.


  1. My first thought is outrage. Twenty-five percent of teenage girls have an STD, and yet the government’s official message is “don’t have sex”? What has to happen in order for the policy setters to wake up?

    I’m also wondering what the age breakdown is (13-year-olds versus 19-year-olds) and if there are any other demographic twists.

    Finally, I personally know several people who delayed sexual activity until they were in their twenties, and I don’t know all that many people who started before age 17. i wonder if I live in a bubble or what.

  2. I like the idea of treating the lack of comprehensive sexuality education for teens as a civil rights issue. Here, here! Bravo. Teens have a RIGHT to this information. We, as adults, are withholding it. Their rights are being violated. This reminds me of your post last week about Stacey Hoch and Venessa McDole who addressed a meeting of FutureNet (concerned with pregnancy prevention) in DesMoines; we SO need the voices of teenagers to be speaking about this issue.

  3. Alice – One issue is really that individuals can get an STD without having intercourse, and lots of teenagers don’t know that. And yes, it makes much sense that the percentage of teenage girls with STDs goes up with age. However, that breakdown may not be present in the complete CDC report. When I have analyzed raw CDC data in the past, they have not included absolute age as a variable – only the decade (11 – 19 years old, 20 – 29 years old, etc).

    So while I don’t think you’re living in a bubble, it is critical to note that age of first sexual intercourse is often a cohort related variable. In general that means as a teenager you probably would have known people who had sex either younger or older – not a range of ages.

  4. I wrote a reaction to this on my personal blog here: http://evancalous.wordpress.com/2008/03/12/1-in-4-teens-has-an-std/ – I was frustrated as I really thought the study was flawed and then the media doesn’t help. I hadn’t felt this organized and frustrated with something in a long time, so I was excited to see that someone else was bothered by the announcement, too!

  5. […] Dr. Karen Rayne addresses the subject on her blog as well, and as I’m in agreement with her reaction and her ideas, I had to share it! […]

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