It's enough to send parents running to lock their teens in
their bedrooms for life - 1 in 4 teenage girls in the United States
has a sexually transmitted disease (STD), according to eye-opening
new government findings.
In the first-ever federal report to simultaneously address the
most common STDs among girls, researchers at the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) focused on four - chlamydia,
genital herpes, human papillomavirus (HPV), and trichomoniasis.
In addition to the revelation that more than 25% of the 838
randomly chosen 14- to 19-year-old girls have one of those STDs,
the researchers also report that:
- approximately half of the teens in the study said they'd
had sex; 40% of those girls had an STD
- 50% of black teens had at least one of the STDS, as did 20%
of white teens
- 15% of the girls with an STD were infected with more than
- even 1 in 5 girls who reported having had only one sexual
partner had at least one STD
And the researchers estimate that a staggering 3.2 million teen
girls could potentially have at least one of these four STDs (with
HPV being the most prevalent).
The Repercussions of Sex
Before kids make that very adult decision to have sex they need
to understand that it can come with many very adult consequences,
Pregnancy is often the biggest concern for sex-curious teens.
be a major worry, considering that nearly 1 million teenage girls
in the United States have babies every year. A recent government
report also showed that, in 2006, the number of births by teen moms
(ages 15 to 19) rose for the first time in nearly 15 years.
Of course, getting pregnant isn't the
risk that sexually active teens need to be worried about. They
should understand that choosing to be intimate also puts them at
risk for STDs - some of which (like AIDS, HPV, and genital herpes)
could stay with them for life.
Although AIDS gets far less media attention than it did in
decades past, an estimated 42 million people worldwide are still
living with AIDS or HIV (human immunodeficiency virus, which causes
AIDS), with more than 3 million dying every year from AIDS-related
And HPV infection is also a serious, though relatively new,
concern. It's the leading cause of cervical cancer and genital
warts, affecting more than half of sexually active people at some
point in their lives - about 6.2 million each year.
These kinds of staggering statistics are why it's crucial
for parents to talk to kids and teens about not only sex, but STDs,
they become sexually active.
What This Means to You
STDs can be a frightening and confusing subject, so it might
help make potentially uncomfortable discussions a little easier if
you're informed by reading up on STD transmission and
prevention. You'll want to correct - and certainly not add to -
any misinformation. Plus, being familiar with the topic will likely
make you feel more confident and at ease.
So, here are a few basic questions you'll want to answer
How do people get STDs?
They aren't just transmitted through vaginal sex - these
diseases can be spread from one person to another during anal or
oral sex, too.
Can you tell that people have an STD just by looking at
People can become infected the first time they have unprotected sex
and their sexual partners may not even know that they're
infected themselves. That's because although some people with
certain kinds of STDs (like genital warts and herpes) may have
visible signs around the genitals, some may have few (as with
chlamydia) or none at all (like with some types of HPV).
How are STDs treated?
Some STDs (like chlamydia and gonorrhea) can be cleared
up with antibiotics, but some infections - like herpes and HIV
- can be treated or managed with drugs but have no permanent cure
How can someone avoid getting an STD?
The only sure way to remain STD-free is to
have sex or intimate contact with anyone outside of a committed,
monogamous relationship, such as marriage. But
who's having sex should
use a latex condom, preferably one with a spermicidal foam, cream,
or jelly that contains nonoxynol-9 - though
method can guarantee prevention of all STDs. And most birth control
methods (like the patch or the pill) provide no STD protection
Knowing how STDs should be properly prevented and treated is
key. A disturbing new report from the Food and Drug Administration
(FDA) shows that unapproved STD prevention and treatment
medications are being sold online - with some being falsely touted
as safe and more effective than prescription medicines. Buying
their own medications could not only be harmful to kids'
health, it could also prove disastrous if they're using
unproven treatments and methods that they believe will prevent them
from getting STDs.
Kids and teens should
try to diagnose or, worse, treat themselves for something they
think they might have. Make sure your kids know that if they see
on their bodies that doesn't look quite right
if they're feeling sick in any way, they need to tell you (or
their school nurse or doctor) so you can find out what's going
Once teens are (or even might be) sexually active, it's also
important for them to get regular full physical exams - which can
include screening for STDs for boys and girls, and a Pap smear as
well as the recently recommended HPV vaccine for girls.
When you discuss STDs, try to address the issue as openly as
possible, without getting too emotional or preachy. You want your
kids to know you're there to support and help, not to
The best way to have a healthy dialogue about what your kids are
thinking about and what's going on with their bodies is to
establish lines of communication early on. If parents aren't
open to talking about sex or other personal subjects when their
children are young, kids will be a lot less likely to seek Mom and
Dad out when it counts.
Kate M. Cronan, MD
Date reviewed: March 2008
Sources: "Prevalence of Sexually Transmitted Infections and
Bacterial Vaginosis Among Female Adolescents in the United States:
Data from the National Health and Nutritional Examination Survey
(NHANES) 2003-2004," March 13, 2008. "FDA Warns Companies
Importing and Marketing Drugs Over the Internet that Fraudulently
Claim to Prevent and Treat STDs," U.S. Food and Drug
Administration press release, March 6, 2008.
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice,
diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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