DENVER – Birth rates among Colorado teens are going down, but the spread of sexually-transmitted infections (STIs) has seen a significant increase, according to a report released by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) Friday.
The findings are part of the 2018 State of Adolescent Sexual Health Report, which details the most current local and national data on youth sexual health.
The report found Colorado saw a drop of 61 percent in birth rates among young people ages 15-19. Of all births among young people, however, the majority of them (72.9 percent) were unintended pregnancies.
When it comes to contraception, Colorado youth “were more likely than their national peers to use birth control the last time they had sexual intercourse” with nine out of ten teens across the state reporting they used birth control the last time they had sex.
Abortions among Colorado teens also saw a drop of 64.6 percent between 2007 and 2016 – with only one in ten (9.5 percent) happening among teens ages 15-19. Much of that decline is attributed to an increase of the Long-Active Reversible Contraceptive (LARC) method, according to the report.
Among the more worrisome statistics is the significant increase in STIs over the span of one year among Colorado teens.
When it comes to having sex, almost one-third of Colorado high school students reported engaging in some form of sexual activity in 2017 – with more than half of 12th graders (52.6 percent) reporting having sex that year. The report also found Colorado teens begin having sex at around the age of 15.
“Youth who felt connected to a trusted adult and to school were more likely to delay sexual initiation and use condoms,” the report found. “These connected youth also were less likely to be bullied on school property or electronically, less likely to experience sexual violence, and less likely to have attempted suicide.”
Compared to their heterosexual peers, LGBT+ youth were four times more likely to have experienced sexual violence (18.5 percent vs. 4.5 percent) and over two times more likely to have experienced teen dating violence (18.2 percent vs. 7.5 percent), data from the report shows.
In 2017, the report states, more than one in three transgender teens and one in ten girls reported experiencing sexual violence in their lifetime.
Among other alarming key findings in the report were the lack of access to resources (jobs, transportation and health care) for teens who live in rural communities.
It found that among young people in rural communities, birth rates continue to be “notably higher” and are decreasing at a lower rate than in urban areas.
Additionally, it found Hispanic and black teens were almost three times more likely to give birth at a young age compared to their white peers.
The report states that “individual choices adolescents have and the decisions they make about their bodies and their lives are shaped by the policies, practices, social norms, and systems within their communities.”
With that framework in mind, the report recommends the following to “support the health and well-being of all Colorado youth”:
1. Minimizing barriers so all Colorado youth have full and equal access to health care.
2. Provide a comprehensive sex education system across the state so teens can make informed sexual decisions.
3. Build supportive environments for young Coloradans so they can thrive during their formative years.
4. Address societal drivers that lead to negative health outcomes among young people, such as poverty and lack of opportunities.
One such recommendation is currently making its way through the legislature.
House Bill 19-1032, which has already passed several House committees, would change an existing law that allows charter schools to obtain waivers to teach different types of sex education, despite abstinence-only education being banned in the state for all other schools.
The bill would add a more robust “human sexuality” curriculum to include consent, birth control, abstinence, STD prevention, LGBTQ inclusion and healthy relationships, by allocating $1 million in existing money to a grant program to teach comprehensive sex education. Rural and public schools with low resources would be prioritized.
The bill will next be considered by the Colorado Senate Committee on Appropriations. A hearing date has not been set.