A pair of statewide reports, as well as a national study, are showing a startling trend in Minnesota’s sexual health: Teen-age pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases are increasing. Experts say the trends show a need to expand sexual health education and promote STD testing and condom use.
Minnesota Organization on Adolescent Pregnancy, Prevention and Parenting released a report last week showing increases of 6 percent and 7 percent in the state’s teen pregnancy rate and teen birth rate, respectively, between 2005 and 2006. Several days later the Minnesota Department of Health released a report showing an increase over last year in sexually transmitted diseases. Those two studies followed a national study by the Centers for Disease Control finding one in four teen-age women in the United States have been infected with an STD.
“This is the first time the rates have gone up in 16 years,” MOAPPP’s executive director, Brigid Riley, said in a press statement Friday. “Since this is just one year’s data, we don’t know yet if it’s a trend, but the fact that Minnesota’s increase is more than twice the national increase is really startling.”
Peter Carr, director of the STD and HIV Section at Minnesota Department of Health, said chlamydia among Minnesotans is responsible for the bulk of the increase. “The rate of chlamydia, which can cause infertility, has more than doubled in the past 12 years and is the driving force behind these record number of STD cases,” Carr said in a press release Monday. “Chlamydia accounted for more than three-fourths of the total number of cases.”
The increases in pregnancy and STDs are a “wake-up call” to start educating students and the general population about condom use and general sexual health, experts say.
“The young people behind these numbers came of age over the last five years. I think we are seeing the direct result of the elimination of school-based health education, reduction in health services, and lack of investment in quality youth development programs,” said Riley. “I hope this is a wake-up call for all Minnesotans to re-evaluate how we are supporting our youth.”
Carr said testing and promoting condom use are the most effective measures.
“To help prevent STDs from spreading, a key strategy is to get tested for STDs each year even if you don’t have symptoms,” said Carr. “This recommendation applies to all women 25 and younger who are sexually active or women over age 25 who have risk factors such as a new partner. Also, if infected, it is important for partners to be notified about the need to get tested and treated. One of the best ways to avoid becoming infected with an STD is to always use a latex condom.”
And while the experts and the research have focused on women, it is important to point out that that a man was also involved in the majority of infections and pregnancies that occurred in these reports. Testing and sexual health information should be targeted to men as well.