While pregnancy and birth rates continue to decline for 15 to 19-year-olds, putting them at historic lows, Minnesota youth are contracting sexually transmitted infections (STI) at alarmingly high rates. The 2019 Minnesota Adolescent Sexual Health Report from the University of Minnesota Medical School’s Healthy Youth Development – Prevention Research Center (HYD-PRC) attributes the rise in STI rates to a combination of factors including barriers to prevention, screening and treatment services, education, and resources.
“Minnesota youth should be commended for making safe and healthy choices about pregnancy prevention,” said Jill Farris, Director of Adolescent Sexual Health Training and Education for the HYD-PRC. “However, increased attention must be paid to the importance of condoms and other barrier methods, widespread adoption of innovations in STI screening, and expanded access to STI treatment.”
The HYD-PRC’s report notes that Minnesota youth are disproportionately impacted by sexually transmitted infections. While adolescents aged 15-19 are only 7% of the Minnesota population, they accounted for 25% of all chlamydia cases and 17% of gonorrhea cases in Minnesota in 2018. “Young people are using highly effective contraceptive methods, but clinicians and educators must continue to stress the importance of barrier methods for STI prevention and strive to provide accessible, confidential screening and treatment services,” noted Farris.
Disparities in sexual health outcomes – by geography and race/ethnicity – continue to persist, as well. The ten Minnesotacounties with the highest teen birth rates are all in rural areas of the state. Youth from communities of color have disproportionately high STI and birth rates. Birth rates for American Indian, black, and Latinx youth are higher than for white youth. Adolescents from communities of color experience disproportionately higher rates of STI, with the highest chlamydia and gonorrhea rates among black and American Indian youth.
A special section of the 2019 Minnesota Adolescent Sexual Health Report focuses on Minnesota youth who are runaway, homeless, or in juvenile corrections facilities (JCF). The report documents that youth in JCF are almost four times more likely to be sexually active than non-JCF youth, and are three times more likely to use drugs/alcohol at last sex. Youth who have experienced homelessness or have run away from home also have significantly higher rates of sexual activity and suicide attempts than their stably housed peers. The report also notes that youth experience homelessness and/or run away from home at the same rates in both rural and urban areas of Minnesota. “Youth who are homeless, runway, and/or in juvenile correction facilities represent our most vulnerable young Minnesotans,” said Farris. “The systems that serve these youth have a unique opportunity to intervene to support their health care needs, and everyone has a role to play to ensure these youth have a successful transition to adulthood.”