Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are infectious diseases that spread from one person to another during sexual contact. If you’re a teenager (or a parent of a teen), it’s important to know that people in this age group are often susceptible to these diseases since they are unaware of the consequences or the prevention techniques. This article is a guide for teens and their parents for preventing and dealing with STDs.
Teens And STDs
Many people are surprised by just how prevalent STDs are among teenagers. In fact, almost half of the 19 million new cases of STDs that appear every year are found in young people ages 15 to 24, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Additionally, certain STDs like Chlamydia and gonorrhea are more common among teens than among adults.
The ways that STDs are spread is the same among teens as it is among adults:
- Multiple partners: The more partners a teen has, the more likely they are to be exposed to an STD.
- Unprotected sex: Failing to use a latex condom during sexual activity can increase the risk of infection.
- Sexual acts: STDs can be transmitted through several types of sexual activity, including vaginal, oral and anal sex. Many teens don’t realize that even skin-to-skin contact can transmit some STDs, such as herpes or genital warts.
With teens, there is one additional risk factor – becoming sexually active at a young age. The younger a person becomes sexually active, the greater their chances of becoming infected with an STD.
(For more information on STDs, see 7 Most Common STDs To Watch Out For.)
Getting Treatment For Teens
Teens are often confused about where to turn when it comes to getting tested for and treating STDs. In cases where a teen feels uncomfortable speaking to a parent about the issue, there are usually local health clinics that can provide STD testing. Most of these clinics have a confidentiality policy so that no one will know you’ve been tested or treated for an STD – not even your parents. Call ahead to find out more about a health clinic’s confidentiality policy for minors.
If you find out that you have an STD, seek treatment as soon as possible. Abstain from sexual contact with anyone until you are no longer infectious. It’s important to take the medication or antibiotics you receive exactly as specified by the doctor – failing to follow the instructions properly could cause your STD to come back.
Many teens are unaware of how serious STDs are. Often, they believe that an STD isn’t such a big deal because it can just be treated with medication if they find out they have one. Unfortunately, some STDs can’t be cured, such as herpes. There are also several health complications that can result from having an STD, such as:
- Being more susceptible to becoming infected with other STDs, including HIV
- Joint problems
- Blood infections
- Chronic pain
- Pregnancy complications
- Pelvic inflammatory disease
- Cervical cancer
- Hearing or vision problems
- Valvular heart disease
One of the main reasons that teens contract STDs is because they have not been educated about the ways in which these diseases can be prevented. In addition, some teens have a casual attitude about STDs because they are unaware of the serious health risks they can cause.
It’s important for parents of teens to be realistic about teenage sexuality. According to the CDC, almost half of all U.S. high school students have had sexual intercourse. In addition, 14 percent of high school students had had 4 or more sexual partners already. Sadly, many of these students were also not using condoms to prevent the spread of STDs or other forms of birth control to prevent teen pregnancy.
Because of these statistics, it’s important for all parents to educate their teens about sex and STDs. Parents who would like assistance can contact a local health clinic about possible sex education programs in which their teen can be enrolled.
Besides education, there are several other important strategies that teens should use to prevent the spread of STDs:
- Get tested: Many people don’t even know they have an STD because they aren’t displaying any symptoms. If you’re sexually active, get tested to find out if you have any STDs.
- Treatment: Seek out treatment for an STD immediately, even if you’re not displaying any symptoms at the moment.
- Condoms: Use a latex condom every time you have sex to prevent the spread of STDs.
- Limiting sex partners: Having fewer sexual partners reduces the risk of infection.
- Abstinence: Abstaining from all sexual activity is the only way to truly prevent STDs. Teens can wait until they are older to become sexually active to reduce their risk of infection.
It’s important for all teens to be aware of the risks of and prevention methods for STDs, even if they plan to wait to have sex. For more information about STDs, including where to find local clinics for testing and treatment, call the National STD Hotline at 1-800-227-8922.