TMH Living Well: Teens, sexuality and STDs
If you haven’t had “the talk” and you’ve got a teen, it’s time to do so. In fact, don’t stop at just one talk — keep it an open discussion. While the rate of teens having sex or getting pregnant hasn’t increased in recent years, the rate of teens contracting STDs has. It’s as good of time as any, as April is STD Awareness Month.
“There are a lot of stories out there going around about what is safe and what’s not among teens, and frankly, the stories are wrong. There are misconceptions about what’s safe sex and what’s not,” said Dr. Jim Summers, OBGYN, with The Memorial Hospital.
He recommends having an open-door policy when it comes to talking about sex with your teen.
“Anything we can do to promote sound information is important. Teens need to have healthy discussions on pregnancy and STDs with their parents and doctor. I welcome my teen patients to come to me with whatever questions they have,” he added.
For example, one misconception among teens is that if they don’t have vaginal sex they won’t get an STD. That’s simply not true.
“Teens need to know that STDs are not just an embarrassment, they can lead to long term health problems,” Summers said.
According to data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), young people aged 15 to 24 are acquiring nearly half of all the new STD cases. Both chlamydia and gonorrhea are on the rise among teens. There are over 20 types of STDs. Other common ones include herpes simplex, HIV/AIDS, HPV, syphilis and trichomaniasis.
Recent CDC data shows that 42 percent of non-married teens ages 15 to 19 have had sex. The good news is that the majority of teens are using a condom — with more boys than girls reporting regular use. Seventy-one percent of boys said they use a condom regularly while 52 percent of girls reported the same. Condoms are a key player in preventing some STDs, however others can be transmitted simply by kissing or through other oral contact, such as herpes.
HPV, or human papillomavirus, is the most common STD. It’s believed that many sexually active men or women will get it at some point in their lifetime.
“There are over 150 types of human papillomavirus. We know that HPV causes cervical cancer, so anything we can do to decrease the overall risk or exposure to this virus is important,” Summers said.
In most cases, HPV clears on its own but a few types are linked to cervical, vaginal and vulvar cancers. Other types account for 90 percent of all cases of genital warts.
“I strongly recommend teens get the HPV vaccine. It’s a key way to lower the chances they’ll develop cervical cancer as women,” Summers concluded. It can also help prevent certain cancers in men.
The vaccine is recommended for both girls and boys starting at the age of 11 or 12. It is most effective before a teen becomes sexually active.
Talk about how to avoid STDs with your teen. Tips include having safe sex (using condoms), staying abstinent, getting tested if sexually active, having just one partner, knowing how far you are comfortable going and vowing to stick to it — and be comfortable saying no.
If you haven’t talked with your teen about sex, do so today.
This weekly article with tips on living well is sponsored by The Memorial Hospital at Craig — improving the quality of life for the communities we serve through patient-centered healthcare and service excellence.
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