amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research

A Quarter of Female Teens in America Infected with Common Sexually Transmitted Infection

April 3, 2008—The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) last month announced results from a new study showing that more than a quarter of teenage girls in the U.S. were infected with at least one common sexually transmitted infection (STI). This study examined data from 838 female adolescents aged 14 to 19 who took part in the 2003-2004 National Health and Examination Survey. Participants were screened for human papillomavirus (HPV), Chlamydia, herpes simplex virus (HSV), and trichonomiasis infections. The study did not address the rates of STIs among teenage boys.

The study uncovered an STI prevalence of 26 percent among approximately 3.2 million teen girls. Prevalence rose to 40 percent among sexually active girls with one or more partner. The most commonly diagnosed STI was HPV (18.3 percent), followed by Chlamydia (3.9 percent), trichonomiasis (2.5 percent), and HSV-2 (1.9 percent). Fifteen percent of adolescent girls were diagnosed with more than one STI. African-American girls had the highest STI prevalence (48 percent) compared to both white and Mexican-American girls (20 percent). Limited access to healthcare contributed to higher STI rates among African-American girls.

This study screened for only four STIs and did not include HIV/AIDS, syphilis, or gonorrhea, a limitation suggesting that the prevalence of STIs must be even higher than 26 percent. The data underscore the importance of making condoms and STI screening and treatment, including the HPV vaccine, available to all teenagers. The data also suggest that young people—especially young people of color—need better access to healthcare and reproductive health services.

These CDC findings further strengthen the case for making comprehensive sex education available to young people in the U.S., despite the lack of a dedicated federal funding stream. For FY 2009, President George W. Bush requested an increase in spending to $204 million for abstinence-only-until-marriage education, despite strong evidence that these programs are ineffective. At the same time, he proposed to decrease the CDC’s budget by $412 million, with cuts to key HIV/AIDS and STI prevention programs.

The increase in abstinence-only education comes at the expense of programs proven effective at curbing the spread of STIs among America’s youth. amfAR supports the Responsible Education About Life (REAL) Act, which, if passed by Congress, would provide federal funding to support comprehensive sex education in U.S. schools, including information about both abstinence and contraception.

For more information about the lack of efficacy of abstinence-only programs, click here (PDF).


[1] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 2008 National STD Prevention Conference. Nationally Representative CDC Study Finds 1 in 4 Teenage Girls has a Sexually Transmitted Disease. March 11, 2008.