By Chris Wilson-Byrne
April is STD (Sexually Transmitted Disease) Awareness Month. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), young people between the ages of 15 and 24 continue to be at greatest risk of infection.
So what can a teen do to protect their sexual health?
The most effective way to prevent transmission of STDs is to abstain from having sex altogether; this includes oral, vaginal, and anal sex, all of which can transmit STDs.
For teens who decide to engage in sexual activity, Dr. Jen Childs-Rothak, Planned Parenthood’s President and CEO, states, “using condoms consistently and correctly provides excellent protection against STDs. They are highly effective in reducing the chance of getting many STDs, including HIV.” Along with proper condom use, the CDC has outlined three behaviors which every sexually active teen should adopt: talk, test, treat.
Talk openly with parents or trusted caregivers about sexual health. For some teens, talking with a parent may not be an option; Planned Parenthood has a Counseling & Referral Hotline that is completely confidential and 100-percent free, where teens can ask questions about sexual health. The hotline can be accessed by phone at (877) 686-5772 or online at pplm.org.
Get tested on a regular basis. “Regardless of your sexual orientation or gender identity, getting tested for STDs is a basic part of staying healthy and taking care of your body—like brushing your teeth and exercising regularly,” says Dr. Childs-Roshak. And STD tests are generally quick, simple, and painless.
For young people, the CDC recommends the following tests:
- HIV testing at least once
- Annual testing for chlamydia and gonorrhea for all sexually active women under the age of 25
- Annual testing for syphilis, chlamydia, and gonorrhea for all men who have sex with men
- Annual HIV testing if you have sex without a condom or share needles
Finally, if a teen does test positive for an STD, he or she should speak with a healthcare provider immediately in order to determine how to get treatment. All STDs are treatable, and many are curable. The sooner treatment begins the more effective it will be.