Most teens do not think they are at risk for an STD. However, the data on STDs is shocking. There are 19,000,000 new STD infections every year in the U.S. About half of that number is among teens and young adults ages 15-24.
Chlamydia and Gonorrhea
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 females.
Chlamydia and gonorrhea symptoms are often mild, whereby they are often unnoticed. The symptoms could include an abnormal discharge from the vagina or penis, or pain and burning when urinating.
Antibiotics can cure Chlamydia and gonorrhea, but if they are not treated soon enough they create infections that can cause scarring in the reproductive tract. This could ultimately result in difficult or impossible for a woman to get pregnant. They could also cause an ectopic (tubal) pregnancy where pregnancy occurs outside of the uterus, often in the fallopian tubes. Ectopic pregnancies can be very dangerous.
Chlamydia and gonorrhea can also cause scarring making it impossible for men to get a woman pregnant naturally.
Note: Chlamydia and gonorrhea are also known to cause Pelvic Inflammatory Disease in women. PID can damage the fallopian tubes and tissues in and near the uterus and ovaries. Sexually active women in their childbearing years are most at risk, and those under age 25 are more likely to develop PID than those older than 25. This is because the cervix of teenage girls and young women is not fully matured increasing their susceptibility to the STDS that are linked to PID
Human Papillomavirus (HPV)
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 will get HPV while they are a teen because of choices they make with sexual activity.
There are approximately 100 strains of HPV. Many strains do not have symptoms and the body can fight them on without treatment. However, some kinds don’t go away and have persistent infections. HPV is the main risk factor for cervical cancer.
Some strains of HPV produce genital warts. The warts can be treated, but there is no medical cure, and often the warts once treated will return. It is unclear how well condoms protect against HPV, but skin that is not covered by a condom can be exposed and infected with HPV.
Females who are sexually active are strongly encouraged to have regular pap testing because of the risk of cervical cancer, or pre-cancerous cells on the cervix.
Vaccines are available for both males and females ages 9 to 26 (before becoming sexually active) that can help prevent the risk of acquiring some of the most threatening strains of HPV. It is important to note that the vaccine against HPV will not completely protect a person from getting cervical cancer or genital warts because there are some strains of the virus that are not included in the vaccine.