Sexual Risk Behaviors: HIV, STD, & Teen Pregnancy Prevention

diverse group of teens in school hallway

Many young people engage in sexual risk behaviors and experiences that can result in unintended health outcomes. For example, among U.S. high school students surveyed in 20171

  • 40% had ever had sexual intercourse.
  • 10% had four or more sexual partners.
  • 7% had been physically forced to have sexual intercourse when they did not want to.
  • 30% had had sexual intercourse during the previous 3 months, and, of these
    • 46% did not use a condom the last time they had sex.
    • 14% did not use any method to prevent pregnancy.
    • 19% had drunk alcohol or used drugs before last sexual intercourse.
  • Nearly 10% of all students have ever been tested for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).*

CDC data show that lesbian, gay, and bisexual high school students are at substantial risk for serious health outcomes as compared to their peers.

Sexual risk behaviors place youth at risk for HIV infection, other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), and unintended pregnancy:

  • Young people (aged 13-24) accounted for an estimated 21% of all new HIV diagnoses in the United States in 2016.2
  • Among young people (aged 13-24) diagnosed with HIV in 2016, 81% were gay and bisexual males.2
  • Half of the 20 million new STDs reported each year were among young people, between the ages of 15 to 24.3
  • Nearly 210,000 babies were born to teen girls aged 15–19 years in 2016.4

To reduce sexual risk behaviorsExternal and related health problems among youth, schools and other youth-serving organizations can help young people adopt lifelong attitudes and behaviors that support their health and well-being—including behaviors that reduce their risk for HIV, other STDs, and unintended pregnancy. The National HIV/AIDS StrategyExternal calls for all Americans to be educated about HIV. This includes knowing how HIV is transmitted and prevented, and knowing which behaviors place individuals at greatest risk for infection. HIV awareness and educationCdc-pdf should be universally integrated into all educational environments.

* CDC recommends all adolescents and adults 13-64 get tested for HIV at least once as part of routine medical care.

CDC Programs & Initiatives

The prevalence of some health behaviors remains high and puts youth at higher risk for negative health outcomes. CDC’s Division of Adolescent and School Health addresses HIV, other STDS, and teen pregnancy prevention through

Abstinence from vaginal, anal, and oral intercourse is the only 100% effective way to prevent HIV, other STDs, and pregnancy. The correct and consistent use of male latex condoms can reduce the risk of STD transmission, including HIV infection. However, no protective method is 100% effective, and condom use cannot guarantee absolute protection against any STD or pregnancy.

  1. CDC. Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance—United States, 2017. MMWR Surveill Summ 2018;67(No. SS-8).
  2. CDC. Diagnoses of HIV Infection in the United States and Dependent Areas, 2016Cdc-pdf. HIV Surveillance Report 2016, vol. 28; November 2017.
  3. CDC. Sexually Transmitted Disease Surveillance 2016Cdc-pdf. Atlanta: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 2017.
  4. Martin JA, Hamilton BE, Osterman MJK, Driscoll AK, Drake P. Births: Final data for 2016. National Vital Statistics Report Rep 2016Cdc-pdf; vol 67, no 1. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2018.