Sexually Active Teens At Risk for STIs

Jan 22, 2016



Many adolescents across the United States face challenges in making healthy decisions when it comes to sexual activities. Unwanted pregnancy is too often a consequence for many teens. But there is something else that can affect their current and long-term health. Sexually transmitted diseases,  more commonly referred to today as sexually transmitted infections (STIs), are pervasive among the nation’s sexually active youth. An STI  or venereal disease (VD) are infections that are passed from one person to another through sexual contact, and sometimes by genital contact – the infection can be passed on via vaginal intercourse, oral sex and anal sex.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has compiled a vast amount of information on sexual activity among teens. On the website, www.cdc.gov, studies show that 47 percent of high school students have had sexual intercourse. Of that number, 34 percent had engaged in the behavior within the last three months and 41 percent of those did not use a condom. 

According to “11 Facts About Teens and STDs,” an article found at www.dosomething.org, “Young people, between the ages of 15-24, account for 50 percent of all new STDs although they represent just 25 percent of the sexually experienced population.” It also states the U.S. is listed as having the highest rate of STIs when compared to other industrialized nations. The CDC offers fact sheets on each STI. A brief overview of the most common are as follows:

Chlamydia

  • Chlamydia was the most common STI in the U.S. in 2014.

  • It can permanently damage the reproductive system of females.

  • Untreated, it has the potential to cause fatal ectopic pregnancy.

  • No vaccine exists for prevention but can be treated with medication. 

  • After contraction, there are usually no symptoms. 

  • Repeat infections are common and testing is advised after three months of the initial treatment.


Genital Herpes

  • Among the most common STIs, affecting one out of every six individuals between the ages of 14 and 49.

  • Caused from two viruses – herpes simplex type 1 and herpes simplex type 2.

  • In resting phase, either no symptoms or very mild symptoms.

  • In an outbreak phase, symptoms include painful sores and is highly contagious to other areas of the body with contact.

  • There is no cure for herpes but medications exist to manage the lifelong disease. 

  • During pregnancy, it can cause miscarriage, early deliveries, can be fatal if passed to a newborn and often requires a cesarean delivery.


Gonorrhea

  • New strain recently discovered that has no cure.

  • Most common in individuals 15-24 years of age.

  • Can be passed to unborn child during delivery.

  • Symptoms in men include: burning sensations, discharge, and painful, swollen testicles. If untreated in men, symptoms will include severe pain and increases the chances of becoming sterile.

  • Symptoms in women are usually absent and are often mistaken for bladder infections. If left untreated, can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) and can cause fallopian tube scar tissue formation, ectopic pregnancy, infertility and long-lasting abdominal and pelvic pain. 

  • Commonly treatable with proper medication, sometimes a process to determine right medication is necessary due to increasing drug-resistant strains of the disease.


HPV

  • The most common STI in the U.S.

  • Most cases resolve on its own, some stay and can cause genital warts or cancer.

  • Vaccination exists and is recommended for all children (boys and girls) 11-12 years of age.

  • Seventy-nine million Americans have HPV and additional 14 million added each year.


Syphilis

  • Divided into stages: primary, secondary, latent and late.

  • Primary symptoms: painless sore often assumed something different that lasts three to six weeks with or without treatment. Secondary symptoms: body rash with no itch, occasional fever, swollen glands. Latent symptoms: stage begins after all other phase symptoms disappear. You can carry the latent phase of syphilis for years unnoticed. If untreated, the latent stage is very serious and could occur 10-30 years after infection initially began. Difficulty coordinating muscle movements, paralysis, numbness, blindness, dementia. Damage to internal organs and death. 

  • Infection is determined through a blood test.

  • Treated with antibiotics but will not undo damage already incurred. 

 
Prevention
The most effective means to prevent infection is true abstinence. It is often public perception that abstinence refers to abstaining from sexual intercourse but true abstinence is not engaging in any sexual conduct, period. 

Another important aspect is to actively engage youth through prevention education programs. The National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD and TB Prevention research program has found evidence that a well-implemented and well-designed program produces a decrease in sexually risky behaviors. Certain aspects of respectable programs should include the following to realize the most value: taught by trained instructors at an age-appropriate level, inclusion of supportive healthy behaviors in school, skill-building instruction and a collaboration of parents, youth and health organizations. When this model is followed, the evidence presents with a delayed first sexual experience, a reduction in sexual partners, a decrease in numbers of unprotected sex and an increase in condom use. 

The study further notes that by implementing these programs with youth, there is a significant increase in money saved. “Effective HIV/STD prevention programs are cost effective. An economic analysis of one school-based sexual risk reduction program found that for every dollar invested in the program, $2.65 was saved in medical costs and lost productivity.”

Once sexual activity has begun, there are preventative methods that can increase the likelihood of avoiding an STI contraction. Condoms are recommended every time sexual contact exists and are an effective method to prevent pregnancy as well as protection from most, not all, STIs. Additionally, it is imperative that sexually active individuals follow up with health care providers. The University of Maryland University Health Center recommends sexually active individuals get tested “every six months or in between partners–whichever comes first.”

The number one thing parents can do is to talk to their children, according to www.stopthinkbesafe.org. They recommend the following steps: 

Talk to your child early.  The younger the child, the more advice they seek whereas adolescents look to outside influences (friends, media and the Internet).

Initiate conversations with your child. Sometimes children won’t initiate conversations that they feel may be embarrassing. In today’s world, opportunities exist everywhere including a commercial, music or news story. These can all be utilized to initiate a beneficial conversation.

Talk with your child, not at your child. By discussing a topic with your child, you will bring him into the conversation and allow for more engagement. Ask questions and ask for their input on a subject matter. 

Create an open environment. Let your child know that though your values might differ, it’s okay to speak to you about sexual subjects. Tell children you want them to come to you so you know they are receiving accurate information. 

Be honest. A parent should know they are just that, a parent, not an expert. If you don’t know the answer to a question, be honest about it. This also will offer an opportunity to search for the answer with your child in a positive and resourceful manner.

Communicate your values. Teach your child more than the basics of sexual behavior. Lay a foundation for values that represent responsibility, respect, self value and self worth. 

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