Roundups Sexual Health

This Week in Sex: Minnesota Teens Get Pregnant Less Often, But Have More Sexually Transmitted Infections

Martha Kempner

There's still a need for condoms even when teens can get other birth control; less sleep means less satisfactory sex lives for many older women; and let's start researching space sex before we reach the final frontier.

This Week in Sex is a weekly summary of news and research related to sexual behavior, sexuality education, contraception, STIs, and more.

Is Minnesota Trading One Teen Sexual Health Issue for Another?

The recently released 2017 Minnesota Adolescent Sexual Health Report finds that teen pregnancy is at an all-time low in the state. But sexually transmitted infections (STIs) continue to rise among young people there.

Since 1990, the pregnancy rate among 15- to 19-year-olds in the state dropped by 70 percent, but chlamydia rates in this age group are up 15 percent and gonorrhea 40 percent in recent years.

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This decrease in teen pregnancy alongside jumps in STIs raises questions that go beyond Minnesota. Jill Farris, the director of adolescent sexual health training and education at the University of Minnesota and author of the report, told the Star Tribune that the decrease in pregnancy is in large part a result of increased use of birth control pills and long-acting reversible contraceptive methods (which include IUDs and implants).

So it’s great that more young people have access to effective contraception. Unfortunately, those same teens who are sexually active are at increasing risk of STIs. Though some of these increases reported in the survey could be the result of more testing, Farris blames this primarily on declining condom use. She explains that some young people who start out using condoms quickly give up the method in favor of something more long term, like the pill, which provides no protection against STIs.

Young people have to be educated about the dual risk of pregnancy and STIs, which if left untreated, can, ironically, damage their fertility later. With dual risks should come dual use—of both condoms and contraception—to provide the best protection possible against unintended pregnancy and STIs.

But Farris added that there’s also evidence that fewer young people in the state are having sex. The 2016 Minnesota Student Survey found that 35 percent of 11th graders in the state have had sex, compared to 50 percent of their peers nationwide. And she has an interesting theory as to why teen sex may be declining.

She told the Star Tribune: “Young people actually have a lot less unsupervised time than they did 20 years ago. Young people are almost always in connection in some way to somebody. And somebody almost always knows where they are.” She also noted that young people often connect with boyfriends or girlfriends through time spent on the phone (which, of course, can’t get you pregnant).

Go to Sleep: It Is Good for Your Sex Life 

We all know that we are supposed to get lots of sleep. But whether we take this advice or not is another story. Recent research may offer incentives to those of us who log onto social media or watch one more episode of TV before we turn out the light: Sleep is good for your sex life.

A study published in the journal Menopause earlier this year looked at data collected from more than 93,000 women ages 50 to 79. It found that women who reported fewer than seven hours of sleep a night were less likely to be satisfied with their sex lives and that this problem got worse as the women aged.

This might not sound all that compelling (especially for those who are still far from their 50th birthdays), but it adds to a body of research about the connection between sleep and sex. Debby Herbenick, a researcher at Indiana University, told CNN about a number of studies on the subject, including one that found women who got more sleep at night were likely to experience stronger sexual desire the next day. Herbenick concluded: “It’s clear that sleep and sex are closely tied together.”

In that same story, Laurie Mintz, a psychology professor at the University of Florida, pointed out one of the most obvious connections between the two: “Being too tired is the number one reason that women blame for their loss of desire. A great number of women say that their primary issue is simply being too depleted to have interest in sex and not some looming relationship problem.”

So put down the iPad, turn off the TV, and go to sleep.

Sex That’s Out of This World—Literally 

There has been some talk lately about humans heading to Mars, someday in the not-so-distant future. In an April call with astronauts aboard the International Space Station, President Donald Trump asked about that timeline. When he was told that NASA’s plan had Mars travel slated for the 2030s, he said: “Well, we want to try and do it during my first term or, at worst, during my second term, so we’ll have to speed that up a little bit, okay?”

That timeline is so far beyond optimistic, it borders on fantastical. It can take up to a year to even get from Earth to Mars once you have the plans in place, the spacecraft built, and the personnel trained.

We may, however, be one step closer these days as Elon Musk, the billionaire behind the Tesla and founder of SpaceX, released his plan for colonizing Mars. The plan, entitled “Making Humanity a Multi-Planetary Species,” is available for free on the SpaceX website for the next few weeks. Its ultimate goal is to get one million people to Mars within the next 50 to 100 years using combination rocket/space-ships that SpaceX is developing.

But, according to George Washington University Professor Kris Lehnhardt, before we do that, we have to investigate sex in space. Whether space sex would feel out of this world (sorry, we couldn’t resist) is an interesting question, but for the purposes of colonization is less important than whether it would result in babies born on Mars.

The exposure to cosmic radiation that travelers would endure on the trip to the red planet could increase the risk of health problems like cancer and dementia, but we don’t know whether it would take a toll on our reproductive health as well. Speaking on a panel for Atlantic Live last month, Lehnhardt said, “If we actually want to go places and stay there, there’s a key component and that’s having babies.”

So, while Musk and his team of engineers and astrophysicists work to figure out how to get us to Mars, we need some sexperts to start studying space sex, stat.

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