This report details the sexual health of Minnesota’s youth. Teen pregnancy and birth rates remain virtually unchanged from 2018. From 1990 to 2019, the teen pregnancy rate among 15 to 19-year-olds decreased by over 70%. The teen birth rate decreased by over 66% in that same period. Young people should be commended for making wise and healthy choices about their sexual health. However, despite the improvements, many challenges remain. Sexually transmitted infections continue to increase and are at an all-time high. Disparities by geography and race and ethnicity persist. It remains to be seen how the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has affected adolescent sexual health. However, in this report, we examine how adolescent health providers in Minnesota have modified their approaches during the pandemic.
In response to the data outlined in this report, the following are recommendations from University of Minnesota Healthy Youth Development – Prevention Research Center (PRC).
• Adolescent sexual health comprises much more than the absence of pregnancy, early childbearing, or infection. To fully support young people’s health, we need to address their physical, social, emotional, and cognitive development, and give them skills and supports to navigate their teen years.
• Sexual health disparities persist among youth who are LGBTQ, gender diverse, adolescent parents, from rural areas, homeless/runaway, in foster care, in juvenile justice settings, and/or from populations of color. The systems that serve these youth have a unique opportunity to address their sexual and reproductive health care needs, and everyone has a role to play to ensure these youth have a successful transition to adulthood.
• Fostering young people’s health, including their sexual health, requires addressing social determinants of health including education, employment, income, housing, community safety and vitality, discrimination, family and social supports, and access to quality health care services.
• Families need to be supported in their role as sexuality educators. Honest, accurate and developmentally appropriate information from parents, grandparents, and other adult caregivers is the first step toward raising children who make safe and healthy decisions about sex, sexuality, and relationships.
• While STI trends were impacted this year by COVID-19 lockdowns, adolescents continue to bear a disproportionate burden of STIs. Current resources for STI prevention and treatment are inadequate to address this critical public health issue. Increased federal and state funding is needed to build public health education campaigns and make testing and treatment more accessible.
• Clinicians and educators must stress the importance of barrier methods, including with youth who use IUDs and implants. Widespread adoption of innovations in STI screening — such as universal testing in schools, street outreach, and home-based screening — together with expanded access to treatment, including expedited partner therapy, are needed to address rising rates of STIs.
• Clinical service providers and health educators utilized innovative virtual strategies to meet the sexual health needs of adolescents during the COVID-19 pandemic. As we build forward post-pandemic, clinicians and educators are encouraged to continue to employ a mix of virtual and in-person strategies that support young people’s sexual health.