Last summer, it was widely reported that STD cases hit a record high for the sixth year in a row. Roughly 68 million Americans have an STD. Included in those numbers are young people ages 15-24 years old, which account for 60% of the cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis (CDC, 2021). Of those numbers, Highlands County has a relatively high percentage of young people who tested positive for bacterial STDs such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis. From Highlands County alone, 2% of the population who tested positive for a bacterial STD are under the age of 18 years old. (Florida Health, 2020).
While those numbers are pretty alarming, they are factual information and the reality of our current world. As much as you may advocate for your teen to practice abstinence, they may be curious about sex and need your guidance in learning how to be safe. Sexual education isn’t just about pregnancy prevention, it’s about STD prevention, understanding the spread of diseases, and providing resources to those who may need help. The good news is that you have the power to be armed and ready with information for when you and your teen talk about sex.
How to Prevent STDs
The surest way to avoid STDs is to not have sex. This means not having vaginal, oral, or anal sex.
Using a condom correctly every time you have sex can help you avoid STDs. Condoms lessen the risk of infection for all STDs. You still can get certain STDs, like herpes or HPV, from contact with your partner’s skin even when using a condom.
Most people say they used a condom the first time they ever had sex, but when asked about the last 4 weeks, less than a quarter said they used a condom every time.
Have Fewer Partners
Agree to only have sex with one person who agrees to only have sex with you. Make sure you both get tested to know for sure that neither of you has an STD. This is one of the most reliable ways to avoid STDs.
The most common STD can be prevented by a vaccine. The HPV vaccine is safe, effective, and can help you avoid HPV-related health problems like genital warts and some cancers.
Who should get the HPV vaccine?
- All boys and girls aged 11 to 12, but the vaccine can start at age 9.
- Everyone through age 26 years, if not vaccinated already.
Talk With Your Partner
Talk with your sex partner(s) about STDs and staying safe before having sex. It might be uncomfortable to start the conversation, but protecting your health is your responsibility.
Many STDs don’t have symptoms, but they can still cause health problems.
- Talk with your health care provider
- Search for CDC recommended tests
- Find a location to get tested for STDs
The only way to know for sure if you have an STD is to get tested. (CDC, 2021).
The Most Common STDs
One of the most common STDs in young people in the United States is one that actually has a vaccine to help prevent it; and that is HPV (Human papillomavirus). “There were about 43 million HPV infections in 2018, many among people in their late teens and early 20s. There are many different types of HPV. Some types can cause health problems, including genital warts and cancers. But there are vaccines that can stop these health problems from happening” (CDC, 2022). Fortunately, practicing safe sex is also another way to help prevent HPV from spreading. But according to Statista, only 54.6% of students reported using a condom during their most recent sexual encounter (Elflein, 2021).
“Gonorrhea is a very common infectious disease. CDC estimates that approximately 1.6 million new gonococcal infections occurred in the United States in 2018, and more than half occur among young people aged 15-24.1 Gonorrhea is the second most commonly reported bacterial STD in the United States.2 However, many infections are asymptomatic, so reported cases only capture a fraction of the true burden” (CDC, 2022).
Most people know that syphilis is an STD, but many do not realize that the symptoms appear in four stages; often continuing the spread of this STD because it can remain in the body for several years. The stages are:
During the first (primary) stage of syphilis, you may notice a single sore or multiple sores. The sore is the location where syphilis entered your body. These sores usually occur in, on, or around the: penis, vagina, anus, rectum and lips or in the mouth.
Sores are usually (but not always) firm, round, and painless. Because the sore is painless, you may not notice it. The sore usually lasts 3 to 6 weeks and heals regardless of whether you receive treatment. Even after the sore goes away, you must still receive treatment. This will stop your infection from moving to the secondary stage.
During the secondary stage, you may have skin rashes and/or sores in your mouth, vagina, or anus. This stage usually starts with a rash on one or more areas of your body. The rash can show up when your primary sore is healing or several weeks after the sore has healed. The rash can be on the palms of your hands and/or the bottoms of your feet and look rough, red, or reddish-brown. The rash usually won’t itch, and it is sometimes so faint that you won’t notice it. Other symptoms may include:
- swollen lymph glands;
- sore throat;
- patchy hair loss;
- weight loss;
- muscle aches; and
- fatigue (feeling very tired).
The symptoms from this stage will go away whether you receive treatment or not. Without the right treatment, your infection will move to the latent and possibly tertiary stages of syphilis.
The latent stage of syphilis is a period when there are no visible signs or symptoms. Without treatment, you can continue to have syphilis in your body for years.
(CDC, February 2022).
While chlamydia is a treatable STD, it is one that if left untreated can have serious lasting effects on your health; especially in females. “The initial damage that chlamydia causes often goes unnoticed. However, chlamydia can lead to serious health problems. In women, untreated chlamydia can cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). Some of the complications of PID are: Formation of scar tissue that blocks fallopian tubes, Ectopic pregnancy (pregnancy outside the womb), Infertility (not being able to get pregnant) and, Long-term pelvic/abdominal pain.
Men rarely have health problems from chlamydia. The infection can cause a fever and pain in the tubes attached to the testicles. This can, in rare cases, lead to infertility. Untreated chlamydia may also increase your chances of getting or giving HIV. (CDC, 2022).
For more information regarding STDs or if you are seeking treatment or testing, call: 1-800-232-4636 or head to https://www.cdc.gov/std/
CDC. CDC estimates 1 in 5 people in the U.S. have a sexually transmitted infection. Centers For Disease Control and Prevention. 2021, January 25. https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2021/p0125-sexualy-transmitted-infection.html.
CDC. Sexually Transmitted Diseases Prevention. Centers For Disease Control and Prevention. 2021, January 21. https://www.cdc.gov/std/prevention/lowdown/lowdown-text-only.htm.
CDC. Syphilis – CDC Fact Sheet. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2022, February 10. https://www.cdc.gov/std/syphilis/stdfact-syphilis.htm.
CDC. Genital HPV Infection – Fact Sheet. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2022, April 12. https://www.cdc.gov/std/hpv/stdfact-hpv.htm#:~:text=Human%20papillomavirus%20(HPV)%20is%20the,the%20health%20effects%20HPV%20causes
CDC. Gonorrhea – CDC Fact Sheet (Detailed Version). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2022, April 12. https://www.cdc.gov/std/gonorrhea/stdfact-gonorrhea-detailed.htm.
CDC. Chlamydia – CDC Fact Sheet. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2022, April 12. https://www.cdc.gov/std/chlamydia/stdfact-chlamydia.htm.
Elflein, John. Sexually transmitted diseases in the U.S. – Statistics & Facts. Statista. 2021, October 26. https://www.statista.com/topics/3485/sexually-transmitted-diseases-in-the-us/#dossierContents__outerWrapper
Florida Health. Bacterial Sexaully Transmitted Diseases. Highlands County Florida. 2020. https://www.flhealthcharts.gov/ChartsReports/rdPage.aspx?rdReport=STD.Dataviewer.