Mary A. Sullivan coordinates community advocacy, education and outreach efforts for the Teen Health Center. She’s provided health education to local students and parents for over 20 years. Here she shares her thoughts about STD awareness.
I do not expect to see a proclamation about STD Awareness Month gracing a banner in front of the Jefferson-Madison Regional Library in downtown Charlottesville, but perhaps it should.
Sexual health and the physical and emotional consequences of sexual activity may be awkward to address, but sexually transmitted diseases (STDs, also called sexually transmitted infections or STIs) seem to be the hardest topic to discuss.
Sexuality is heavily weighted, morally, and STDs tend to be framed as or feel like punishment to those afflicted. Someone with strep throat might not hesitate to get healthcare, but the stigma surrounding STDs contributes to fear of being tested, and thus, treated.
When I ask teens why someone might avoid STD testing, the responses range from, “He looks fine” to “I don’t know where to go or how to ask for testing” to “My parents would kill me.”
Also, STDs can be transmitted through oral sex, which means we need to be clearer about what we mean we say “sex” or “sexual activity” with teens. Information that is accurate and easy to understand may lead to a reduction in the risk of STDs.
STDs: The Numbers
That said, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says that almost 20 million new STD cases are diagnosed annually; half of these are diagnosed in those ages 15 to 24. The CDC also estimates that 17 billion dollars is spent annually on healthcare related to STDs. In Virginia, those under 18 can consent to testing and treatment of STDs without parental knowledge or consent.
The Most Common STDs
The two most common STDs are:
- Chlamydia, which is curable if found and treated
- HPV (human papillomavirus), for which there is an effective vaccine to prevent the infection.
Gonorrhea is another common STD and is also cured with antibiotics, though it appears that some strains of gonorrhea are becoming antibiotic-resistant.
Effects of STDs
And while only a few sexually transmitted infections are potentially lethal, STDs are costly in many other ways. Many can affect future fertility, making it hard for those who’ve been infected to start a family.
Do you think you might have an STD or want to learn more about preventing STDs? The Teen Health Center can help. Make an appointment today.