Reproductive and Sexual Health
Reproductive and Sexual Health Across the Life Stages
Reproductive and sexual health is an important part of an individual's overall health, particularly during childbearing years.
- Babies of mothers who do not get prenatal care are 3 times more likely to have a low birth weight and 5 times more likely to die than those born to mothers who do get prenatal care.7
- STDs are a risk to adolescents' health and fertility. Nearly half of new STD infections are among young people age 15 to 24.8
- Adolescents who become pregnant are much less likely to complete their education. About 50% of teen mothers get a high school diploma by age 22, compared with 90% of teen girls who do not give birth.4 Only 50% of teen fathers who have children before age 18 finish high school or get their GED by age 22.9
Older adults are a traditionally overlooked population in reproductive and sexual health; this situation is changing, however, as the U.S. population ages. Consider the following:
- 29% of people living with AIDS are over age 50.
- Older women may be especially at risk of contracting HIV and other STDs because age-related vaginal thinning and dryness can cause tears in the vaginal area.
- Some older adults, compared with those who are younger, may be less knowledgeable about HIV/AIDS and therefore less likely to protect themselves. Many do not perceive themselves as at risk for HIV, do not use condoms, and do not get tested for HIV.
Determinants of Reproductive and Sexual Health
Reproductive and sexual health, particularly the spread of STDs including HIV and the prevalence of unintended pregnancy, are determined in part by social, economic, and behavioral factors. Stigma is still a major barrier to people accessing reproductive and sexual health services. For example, the continued stigma around HIV and its association with men who have sex with men can prevent people from getting tested and knowing their serostatus.
Many other factors affect an individual's reproductive and sexual health decision-making, including access to medical care, social norms, educational attainment, age, income, geographic location, insurance status, sexual orientation, and dependency on alcohol or other drugs. Addressing these determinants is key to reducing health disparities and improving the health of all Americans.
7Office on Women's Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Prenatal Care Fact Sheet. Washington, DC: 2009. Available from https://www.womenshealth.gov/a-z-topics/prenatal-care
10Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. HIV/AIDS Among Persons Aged 50 and Older. Atlanta, GA: 2008. cdc.gov/hiv/pdf/library_factsheet_HIV_among_PersonsAged50andOlder.pdf