Teens, Sex and STDs


Are you ready for sex? Deciding when to engage or not engage in sexual relations is one of the most important decisions a person, of any age, can make. Some girls you know may already be sexually active. About 42 percent of all high school girls are having sex, according to a 2001 study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It is a decision that could affect the rest of your life. Take it seriously and know the risks, from getting pregnant to contracting a sexually transmitted disease, not to mention other emotional and physical risks that can come into play when teenagers have sex.

If you are sexually active, you can use one or more types of birth control to prevent getting pregnant. You can also lower your risk of contracting an STD by using condoms. No method, however, is 100 percent safe. The only foolproof way to keep from getting pregnant or avoid an STD is not to have sex.

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Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs)

STDs are spread by sexual intercourse or genital contact. You can contract an STD from having oral sex with an infected partner. Almost four million cases of sexually transmitted diseases occur among teenagers every year, according to the CDC.

You may have heard about some STDs, such as HIV/AIDS, gonorrhea and herpes. But there are many other STDs to know about, so read on.

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You are most likely to get an STD during your teen and young adult years — more than two-thirds of all STDs occur in people younger than 25. Because STDs often cause no symptoms (especially in girls and women), health care professionals recommend that sexually active girls and women routinely be tested or screened for STDs. If you are too embarrassed to talk to your health care professional, discuss the issue with a school nurse or call your local health department, Planned Parenthood or the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's STD hotline.

Treating some STDs is often a snap — just antibiotics — but the health consequences of an STD remaining untreated can be severe. And, the most common STDs, human papillomavirus (HPV) and herpes, are viral diseases that can't be cured. The longer you have an infection without treatment the more damage it can do, including causing permanent damage to your reproductive organs, making pregnancy later in life difficult. Some STDs can cause problems during pregnancy or during a delivery.

Dangers of Unprotected Sex

Having unprotected sex and multiple sex partners places you at higher risk for STDs. Many STDs have no symptoms when you are first infected, so you may have an infection without knowing it. If you are sexually active, be sure to have regular check-ups that include STD screenings so if you have an infection it can be detected and treated (if possible) at its earliest stages.

More than half of teens (51 percent) who are sexually active say they used a condom the last time they had sex, according to a 2001 CDC survey. However, only about 25 percent of teenagers say they consistently use a condom.

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When used correctly, male latex) condoms and female condoms used during sexual intercourse can help reduce your risk of getting many STDs, including HIV (the virus that causes AIDS), but male and female latex condoms don't prevent all STDs transmitted by skin-to-skin contact.

Other contraceptives, like birth control pills, and spermacides that contain a chemical called nonoxynol-9, will help prevent pregnancy, but don't protect you from STDs. In fact, spermacides containing nonoxynol-9 can increase vaginal irritation, which may actually increase your chances of getting an STD from an infected partner, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Asking questions about sexual topics may feel awkward and embarrassing. It can be an uncomfortable thing to talk about. But if you are sexually active or considering having sex, not knowing about STDs is dangerous. That lack of knowledge can harm you, or even kill you. Get the facts from someone who knows, whether it's a parent, brother or sister, health care professional or teacher.

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