Report: Minnesota teen pregnancy at all-time low as STD rates continue to climb

Middle school health clinic
Pamphlets line the door to the health clinic at a middle school in Maine in April 2012.
Cheryl Senter | AP

Pregnancies and birth rates dipped to historic lows among Minnesota teens while sexually-transmitted diseases continue to climb, according to University of Minnesota report released Thursday.

Researchers documented a 71 percent drop in the pregnancy rate of 15- to 19-year-olds and a 65 percent decline in births in the past 26 years, according to the 2018 Minnesota Adolescent Sexual Health Report.

The report, conducted by the Medical School's Healthy Youth Development — Prevention Research Center, attributes the decline to a combination of delayed sexual activity and an increase in the use of highly effective contraceptive methods among teens. The report looked at data from 1990 through 2016.

However, the report was not all good news.

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Sexually transmitted diseases continue to rise.

Even though youth ages 15 to 19 account for 7 percent of the state's population, they accounted for 25 percent of chlamydia and 18 percent of gonorrhea cases in 2017, the report said.

"The messages around pregnancy prevention have sunk in and young people are considering it a really important thing to avoid pregnancy and that's great," said report author Jill Farris. "But we also need to stress the importance of avoiding sexually transmitted infections, too."

Farris is also the director of adolescent sexual health training and education for the Healthy Youth Development -- Prevention Research Center.

Disparities exist

Disparities among race, geography and sexual orientation continue to negatively impact sexual health outcomes for teens, Farris said. The 10 Minnesota counties with the highest birth rates are concentrated in greater Minnesota and teens of color have higher rates of STDs and births.

She added:"Racial and ethnic disparities are pretty stark and some of the worst in the country.

"We should be thinking about how we can provide health care services that are culturally relevant and supportive and attractive to young folks of all backgrounds."

A section of the report explores the issues of relationship violence and sexual abuse.

Overall, nearly 14 percent of youth reported violence in their dating relationships. And 19.3 percent of Minnesota school-aged youth reported they had experienced sexual harassment in school during the past 30 days. That harassment included sexual jokes, comments or gestures.

Recommendations for change

The report offers several recommendations, including:

• Schools, out-of-school time programs, clinics and faith communities should be better prepared to have open and nonjudgmental conversations with youth around sex.

• Doctors and nurses must stress the importance of barrier methods such as condoms, including with youth who use IUDs and implants.

• Widespread adoption of screening innovations — such as universal testing in schools, street outreach, and home-based screening — and expedited partner therapy can address rising rates of STDs.

• Educators, doctors, and nurses, as well as advocates, each have a role to play in changing social norms and educating young people about healthy relationships and consent.

The center is providing a free webinar on the topic from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. June 19. You can join here.

Correction (June 8, 2018): An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the job title of Jill Farris.