Fewer U.S. High School Students Having Sex, Using Drugs

Atlanta, GA–The 2017 National Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) paints a promising picture about the drug and sexual behaviors U.S. high school students report, but the findings leave room for concern – especially among groups of young people who report multiple health risks.

Student sexual behavior

In 2017, there was another decline in the percentage of high school students who report that they have ever had sex and those who have had four or more sexual partners – the lowest levels since CDC began conducting the survey in 1991.

Unfortunately, a lower percentage of students who engage in sex report using condoms. The correct use of condoms helps to prevent the transmission of HIV and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), and 15- to 24-year-olds account for half of all new STD infections in the U.S.

The self-reported data show that students who:

  • Ever had sex:Declined from 47.8% in 2007 to 5% in 2017.
  • Had four or more sexual partners:Declined from 14.9% in 2007 to 7% in 2017.
  • Used a condom during last sex:Declined from 61.5% in 2007 to 8% in 2017.

Student reports of other factors that have been shown to increase the risk for HIV and STDs – like drug-use, experiences of violence, and poor mental health – remain troubling.

Illicit drug use and new findings on prescription opioids

While the percentage of students who reported ever using select illicit drugs (defined here as cocaine, heroin, methamphetamines, inhalants, hallucinogens, or ecstasy) was down, the survey found that 14 percent of U.S. high school students (1 in 7) reported misusing prescription opioids. The misuse of prescription opioids can lead to overdose as well as injection drug use, which increases the risk for HIV.

The percentage of students who:

  • Ever used select illicit drugs: Declined from 22.6% in 2007 to 0% in 2017.
  • Ever misused prescription opioids: Was 14.0% in 2017 (first year for data).

Substantial levels of violence and persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness

Nationally, 1 in 5 students reported being bullied at school, and 1 in 10 female students and 1 in 28 male students reported having been physically forced to have sex. Also in 2017, the proportion of students reporting persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness increased to 1 in 3. The percentage of students who:

  • Were bullied at school:Has not significantly decreased from 19.9% in 2009 to 19.0% in 2017.
  • Were forced to have sex: Has not significantly improved from 7.8% in 2007 to 7.4% in 2017.
    • Females: Has not significantly decreased from 11.3% in 2007 to 11.3% in 2017.
    • Males: Has decreased from 4.5% in 2007 to 3.5% in 2017.
  • Felt sad or hopeless:Has increased from 28.5% in 2007 to 31.5% in 2017.