S. Nicole Lane
April 27, 2017 6:25 am
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Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) affect all age groups—they know no bounds. However, a new study found that STIs affect young people more than anyone else. Those between the ages of 15-24 make up a half of the new STIs that occur in the United States each year, yet they only make up about a quarter of the population. Moreover, the scary truth about this revelation is that young people aren’t getting tested for STIs, and, as a result, many are unaware that they have an infection at all.

The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that there are 19.7 million new infections in the US every year. Consequently, 51 percent of those infections occur in young women and 49 percent occur in men. They also found that the eight most common STIs are: chlamydia, gonorrhea, hepatitis B virus (HBV), herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2), human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), human papillomavirus (HPV), syphilis, and trichomoniasis.

While many STIs can be treated, and even cured, serious health problems can occur later on in life if they go unnoticed. For example, the CDC has found that undiagnosed chlamydia or gonorrhea can put women at risk for chronic pelvic pain, ectopic pregnancy, and an increase in infertility.

The most common STI is HPV, the human papillomavirus, and most sexually active people will contract HPV at some point in their lives. This means that vaccination and prevention are incredibly important. Even though 90 percent of HPV infections go away on their own, some strands can linger and cause cervical cancer. It doesn’t pay to be risky.

Finally, STIs cost $16 billion in medical costs. HIV and HPV are the most costly due to their lifelong treatment requirements and cancer-research.

Here’s how you can stay educated about sexually transmitted viruses beyond April, which was STD Awareness Month. The more knowledge about STI prevention you arm yourself with, the easier you can keep your body and partners’ bodies safe.

What can you do to protect yourself and your partner?

Get tested

Firstly, everyone should be tested annually for HIV. After and before each new partner, a screening for all other STIs is also recommended. STI symptoms often go undetected because they mirror other sicknesses. For example, flu-like symptoms such as a fever, aching, swollen glands, or sore throat can often mean you have an STI. Because these symptoms don’t feel like such a big deal when you’re experiencing them, STIs go undiagnosed and spread unknowingly.

Talk to your partner(s) about STIs

Only 53 percent of women and 45 percent of men talk about birth control and STIs with their partner before they first have sex, according to the CDC Fact Sheet. Communicating with your partner is key when it comes to taking care of your body. Providing an open dialogue, reducing judgment, and staying educated can be beneficial to your partnership moving forward.

Use protection

22 percent of teen females and 14 percent of teen males said that they did not use contraception during their first time having intercourse. Eek. Condoms are still the best and most effective way to prevent STIs, so don’t underestimate their power.. In particular, latex condoms lower the risk of cervical cancer, HIV, and infection.

The recent rise in IUDs is playing a role in minors not using condoms. However, condoms protect you from STIs and from the spread of any infections. Therefore, IUDs are not be the only form of contraception and protection that should be used.

What can society do to prevent the rise of STIs?

Improve sex ed classes

Surprisingly, one in every four teens contracts an STI every year. The American sex education programs are known for their setbacks and flaws. As a result, outside organizations are trying to improve sex ed so minors can be more knowledgeable about their health.

In fact, only 22 states mandate sex education to be part of their school day and many provide abstinence-only curriculums. This method is not an effective or sex positive approach. Furthermore, it’s causing more destructive and unethical results.

Reduce the stigma surrounding STIs

Firstly, young adults without insurance rarely seek testing. On the contrary, those with insurance worry it will appear on their parents’ insurance bill. That’s why Planned Parenthood and various clinics all around the country provide free HIV and STI testing. Testing doesn’t have to have a negative connotation tied to it.

Dr. Virgil Reid of Planned Parenthood of Illinois told the Chicago Tribune that this STIs are “essentially an epidemic…more young people are becoming sexually active younger, without the knowledge they need to protect themselves.”

Teaching everyone about sexual health and STIs can provide a successful and healthy road in future sexual experiences as an adult. In conclusion, take action, get tested, and stay educated—everyone will have better sex that way.

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