An STD is an infection that is passed from one person to another during sexual contact. STDs are much more common than you may think. About 19 million Americans get an STD every year. And, although most teens do not think they are at risk, teens actually have higher rates of STDs than adults. Most people who have one don’t even know they have one unless they get tested or until the infection is advanced. It’s important that your teen understands that they can get an STD even if they don’t have sex. They don’t
have to have intercourse to get one. They can get some STDs by simply touching infected areas of the skin (HPV, syphilis, herpes). And teenage girls get some kinds of STDs like chlamydia, gonorrhea and HIV easier than women who are older. Review with your teen the facts about STDs, and tell them about the dangers of STDs. Remember to say that sexual contact is any close contact with the genital area, including oral, anal, and vaginal sex. Any of these activities can transmit an STD.
Chlamydia and gonorrhea are two common bacterial STDs. According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), the highest reported rates of Chlamydia and gonorrhea are among 15-19 year old female teens. Chlamydia and gonorrhea symptoms can be so mild that they are often unnoticed. But if there are symptoms, they can include abnormal discharge from the vagina or penis and pain or burning sensation when urinating. Females can also have lower abdominal pain. Antibiotics can cure Chlamydia and gonorrhea. But if they are not treated soon enough, either one of these infections can cause scarring of some parts of the reproductive tract which can make it difficult or impossible for a woman to get pregnant naturally. Or they can cause an ectopic pregnancy where pregnancy occurs outside the uterus. Ectopic pregnancies can be very dangerous. Chlamydia and gonorrhea can also cause scarring in men’s reproductive tracts and make it impossible for them to get a woman pregnant naturally. It is important that you talk to your teen about these STDs because they can cause long term problems. Encourage your teen to make healthy choices; give them the information they need to guide their choices; and provide them with the support they need to stick to them.
Infection with human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common STD in the U.S. Over 50% of people who have sex will get HPV at some point in their lives. Many people get HPV during their teenage years. There are many kinds of HPV. Most kinds don’t have any symptoms. Some can cause genital warts. Most HPV infections don’t cause any problems at all and go away in a year or two without any treatment. However, some kinds that don’t go away—persistent infections—are the main risk factors for cervical cancer. The genital warts that are caused by the HPV virus can be treated, but there is no medical cure for the virus (HPV) itself. Because HPV can lead to cancer of the cervix, regular pap testing and careful medical follow-up and treatment are important to help ensure that abnormal changes in the cervix caused by HPV do not develop into cervical cancer. Therefore, Pap tests are an important part of female reproductive health.
Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is the virus that causes Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS). There are about 1.2 million people living with HIV/AIDS today in the US. However, this number could be much larger because about 25% of people infected with HIV do not know they have it. When someone first gets infected with HIV, there usually aren’t any symptoms. But if there are symptoms, people usually think they have the flu. With time the HIV virus can destroy the immune system which leads to AIDS. When a person has AIDS, their immune system is not able to fight off infections. Some of these infections can be serious diseases and people can die from them. Today there are many medicines that can help people live longer, but none can cure the HIV infection. Tell your teen that it is easier to get HIV if you already have another STD, like chlamydia, HPV, or herpes. People who have HIV can pass the infection to their sexual partners. Remember, you cannot tell if someone has HIV just by looking at them.
Herpes simplex virus or “herpes” is one of the most common infections in the world. There are two main types: one that usually infects the reproductive tract, and one that usually infects the mouth and lips. When someone first gets infected, he or she can have a fever, aches, pains, and many little painful blisters close to where the virus made contact with the skin. The soft skin or membranes on the penis, scrotum, or female genital area can become very sore. There also can be painful “fever blisters” around the mouth. This first set of symptoms generally lasts one to two weeks. Symptoms often recur throughout life, but recurrences generally are not as severe as the initial outbreak. There is no cure for herpes. There are new medicines that can help control the symptoms if they are severe, but some people do not need medication because their recurrences are mild. An infected person can give the infection to someone else through sex or close contact with the skin, mouth, or reproductive tract. They can infect someone even if they do not have blisters or other symptoms. Mothers can pass herpes to their babies when they are born.
like hepatitis B infection, syphilis, and trichomoniasis. This chart has more information about these and other STDs. It is important for you to know about STDs so you can help your teen make choices to ensure a healthy body and future. HIV and most STDs can be diagnosed with special tests. Tell your teen that you can’t just look at someone and tell if they are infected.