Empowering Meaningful Conversations About Sexual Health Among Young Adults


Adolescence can be a confusing time for young adults with regard to understanding sexual health and relationships and engaging in healthy, open conversations around these topics. By age 18, 55% of adolescents have engaged in sexual activity or intercourse. Despite these statistics, only 29 states and DC mandate sex education in schools, and 13 of these states do not require the content to be evidence-informed, medically accurate, and complete. 

Communicating openly with partners is key to good sexual health, well-being, and positive relationships, but for many young adults, these discussions are anxiety-producing or avoided altogether. To better equip this demographic with the practical, evidence-based, and accessible tools needed to engage on sexual health and relationship topics, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) enlisted the Altarum-led National Coalition for Sexual Health (NCSH) to create and implement a national communications campaign.


The CDC and the NCSH recognized a need to gain a better understanding of the challenges and barriers US adolescents face in communicating about their relationships and sexual health,. In response, the CDC asked Altarum to lead a research initiative to gain insights into these challenges. With assistance from Michaels Opinion Research, Altarum and the NCSH conducted a national online survey of over 1,200 young adults, ages 18 to 26, and led additional in-depth focus groups to gather representative evidence to inform future communications. 

To help turn the insights gained from this analysis into a successful communications campaign, we established a Young Adult Advisory Group (YAAG) consisting of 12 individuals representative of the diversity of today’s young adults—race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, and geographic location. We also formed an advisory council of 10 leaders and organizations with expertise in young adults, sexual health, and relationships. Altarum will lead and engage both groups throughout the campaign development and implementation.


Our initial findings revealed that young adults are overwhelming interested in being able to communicate more openly with their partners on both sexual health (85%) or relationship (94%) topics. In 2024, we will launch a communications campaign to motivate young adults and equip them with the skills they need to engage in meaningful conversations that will improve sexual health, increase well-being, and foster positive relationships.


Megan Higdon
Program Director, Sexual and Reproductive Health