Sexually Transmitted Infections

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Learn More About Teen Sexual Health

Measures of Teen Sexual Health on
On, indicators of teen sexual health include the number and rate of reported cases of chlamydia and gonorrhea among young people ages 10-19, at the county level overall, by age group, and by gender. Also available are state-level estimates of the percentage of teens ages 14-17 who have not had sex.
Teen Sexual Health
Pupil Support Services
Health Care
Teen Births
Why This Topic Is Important
Sexual health is a critical component of overall teen health and is influenced by complex factors including biology, socioeconomics, community environments, relationships with family and peers, and access to health care and education (1). While sexuality is a normal part of adolescent development, sexual activity can have serious consequences, including sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and unintended pregnancy. It is estimated that although young people ages 15-24 make up 13% of the U.S. population, they represent around 25% of the sexually active population and account for almost 50% of all new STI cases each year (2, 3).

Among infectious diseases that must be reported to the U.S. government, chlamydia and gonorrhea are the most common, with young people (ages 15-24) having the highest rates of infection when compared with other age groups (2, 4). Nationwide, African American/black youth experience especially high rates of chlamydia and gonorrhea; in 2019, black youth ages 15-19 were diagnosed with chlamydia at more than five times the rate for white youth of the same age, and with gonorrhea at more than 11 times the rate of their white peers (4).

Chlamydia and gonorrhea infections are often asymptomatic, particularly in women, so regular screenings are critical in order to provide timely treatment and to reduce disease transmission (2, 3). If untreated, chlamydia and gonorrhea can lead to chronic pain, pelvic inflammatory disease, infertility, and adverse reproductive outcomes (2, 3).

STIs also have serious economic consequences. In terms of lifetime direct medical costs, new STI cases in 2018 among young people ages 15-24 are estimated to be a $4.2 billion burden on the U.S. health care system (2).
For more information on teen sexual health, see’s Research & Links section. Also see’s Teen Births topic.

Sources for this narrative:

1.  Plourde, K. F., et al. (2016). Improving the paradigm of approaches to adolescent sexual and reproductive health. Reproductive Health, 13, 72. Retrieved from:

2.  National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (2021). Sexually transmitted infections: Adopting a sexual health paradigm. National Academies Press. Retrieved from:

3.  U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2020). Sexually transmitted infections national strategic plan for the United States: 2021–2025. Retrieved from:

4.  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021). Sexually transmitted disease surveillance 2019. Retrieved from:
How Children Are Faring
According to 2017-2018 estimates, 87% of California teens ages 14-17 had never had sex. Young people who engage in sexual activity may be at risk for sexually transmitted infections such as chlamydia and gonorrhea; in 2018, 49,672 cases of chlamydia and gonorrhea were reported among youth ages 10-19 statewide. Youth chlamydia and gonorrhea rates in California have fluctuated since 2000 but have increased overall, from 635 cases of chlamydia per 100,000 youth ages 10-19 in 2000 to 789 per 100,000 youth in 2018, and from 98 cases of gonorrhea per 100,000 youth in 2000 to 133 per 100,000 in 2018. Over the same period, statewide and across most counties with data, female youth were diagnosed with chlamydia and gonorrhea at higher rates than their male counterparts. Although teens ages 15-19 account for the vast majority of chlamydia and gonorrhea cases among youth in California, there also were 914 cases involving children ages 10-14 in 2018.
Policy Implications
Young people need accurate, appropriate, and comprehensive sexual health information, access to quality health care, and supportive families, peers, and communities in order to make safe, informed choices about sexual activity (1, 2). California law requires integrated, comprehensive sexual health and HIV prevention education in middle school and high school, and mandates that instruction and materials be appropriate for students of all ages, genders, racial/ethnic and cultural backgrounds, sexual orientations, and those with disabilities (3). In addition to providing tailored education and health services for adolescents, efforts to improve teen sexual health should focus on promoting protective factors associated with reduced sexual risk-taking (e.g., strong family and peer relationships) and addressing underlying social conditions and systemic barriers (e.g., racial and income disparities in access to quality health care) that influence health behaviors and outcomes (2, 4). Although California has a strong track record of promoting adolescent health, state data show persistent disparities in teen sexual and reproductive health by race/ethnicity and geography (2).

California youth have the right to confidential sexual health services—related to sexually transmitted diseases (for ages 12 and older), contraception, pregnancy, and abortion—but teens, doctors, and parents may not fully understand those rights (5). Insurance coding and reimbursement can be a challenge to confidentiality as it can reveal the nature of a visit to guardians, though California law now allows patients to request that sensitive information be kept from primary policyholders (6).

Policy and program options to improve teen sexual health include:
  • Promoting routine sexuality education by pediatricians as a supplement to information provided in school or at home, and exploring ways to remove barriers that prevent many pediatricians from providing such education—such as reimbursement, training, and time issues (7)
  • Continuing to ensure that public health and reimbursement policies support broad, routine screening of youth for chlamydia and other sexually transmitted diseases, and that health care services are accessible, culturally appropriate, and sensitive to teen needs; e.g., providing care at school- or community-based locations and offering extended hours (4, 8)
  • Ensuring that the California Healthy Youth Act, which expanded sexual education requirements for schools, is implemented effectively across the state (3, 9)
  • Encouraging policies and programs that strengthen family relationships (including parent-child communication about sexual health), help youth develop positive and meaningful connections to peers and other adults, and provide safe and supportive community and school environments (1)
  • Promoting cross-sector efforts that go beyond individual factors to address larger cultural and structural forces that give rise to teen sexual health disparities, such as discrimination, poverty, and lack of access to health care, education, or transportation (1, 2, 4)
  • Supporting efforts to use digital and social media as positive tools to promote healthy sexual development; this may involve identifying ways to help parents and youth manage negative media influences (10)
For more policy ideas and research on this topic, see’s Research & Links section or visit the Guttmacher Institute and Essential Access Health. Also see Policy Implications on under Teen Births and Health Care.

Sources for this narrative:

1.  Plourde, K. F., et al. (2016). Improving the paradigm of approaches to adolescent sexual and reproductive health. Reproductive Health, 13, 72. Retrieved from:

2.  Campa, M., et al. (2016). California adolescent sexual health needs index, 2014. California Department of Public Health. Retrieved from:

3.  California Sexual Health Education Roundtable. (n.d.). California Healthy Youth Act frequently asked questions. Retrieved from:

4.  National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (2021). Sexually transmitted infections: Adopting a sexual health paradigm. National Academies Press. Retrieved from:

5.  National Center for Youth Law. (2018). California minor consent and confidentiality laws. Retrieved from:

6.  American Civil Liberties Union of California, et al. (2016). Confidential Health Information Act: New insurance confidentiality protections for Californians. Retrieved from:

7.  Breuner, C. C., et al. (2016). Sexuality education for children and adolescents. Pediatrics, 138(2), e20161348. Retrieved from:

8.  American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Adolescence, & Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine. (2014). Screening for nonviral sexually transmitted infections in adolescents and young adults. Pediatrics, 134(1), e302-e311. Retrieved from:

9.  Adolescent Sexual Health Work Group. (2017). Current and relevant resources to support local implementation of comprehensive sexual health education in California schools. Retrieved from:

10.  Collins, R. L., et al. (2017). Sexual media and childhood well-being and health. Pediatrics, 140(Suppl. 2), S162-S166. Retrieved from:
Websites with Related Information
Key Reports and Research
County/Regional Reports
More Data Sources For Teen Sexual Health