The ABCs of STDs -Facts for Teens
Sexually transmitted diseases, or STDs, are becoming more common among teenagers. In fact, one out of every eight adolescents gets an STD. If you are a teenager, understanding STDs and their harmful long-term effects can help you make responsible, healthy decisions.
What is an STD?
A sexually transmitted disease is an infection you can get by having sexual intercourse, anal sex, oral sex or skin-to-skin contact. They can be caused by viruses or bacteria.
Who is at risk?
You are at risk of getting an STD if you’ve ever had sex. You are at a higher risk if you have had many sex partners, have had sex with someone who has had many partners, or have had sex without using condoms.
What are some of the most common STDs?
- Chlamydia—This STD is caused by bacteria. Girls may have no symptoms or may have pain when urinating. They may also experience a yellow discharge from the vagina, vaginal itching, bleeding between periods or lower abdominal pain. Guys may experience no symptoms, or they may feel a burning sensation when urinating and have a milky colored fluid from the penis. Chlamydia is treated with antibiotics. If not treated, it can lead to infertility in girls or painful swelling of the scrotum in guys.
- Gonorrhea—This STD is also caused by bacteria. Girls may experience no symptoms, or they may have white, green or yellow discharge from the vagina. They may also experience pain when urinating, bleeding between periods, heavy bleeding during a period, or even a fever. Guys may have a thick, yellow discharge from the penis and pain when urinating. Both girls and guys can get sore throats if they’ve had oral sex. Gonorrhea is treated with antibiotics. If left untreated, it can lead to serious health problems for both guys and girls.
- Herpes—Caused by a virus, this disease usually causes the same symptoms for both guys and girls. At first, there may be a tingling, pain or itching near the vagina or penis. Small blisters can form in these areas, which can cause painful urination or a burning sensation. It can also cause swollen glands, fever and aches. Although the blisters and sores can go away, they can come back again. Herpes cannot be cured, but there are medicines to treat the symptoms.
- HIV/AIDS—Also caused by a virus, HIV is the virus that causes AIDS. HIV weakens the body’s immune system, making it nearly impossible for the body to fight diseases. Although they may not develop for years, symptoms can include infections, fatigue, unexplained weight loss and night sweats. HIV cannot be cured, but there are medicines that can treat the symptoms.
- Genital Warts—Caused by a virus, genital warts grow in or around the vagina, penis or rectum. Girls may not see them because they can grow inside the body on the cervix or vagina. Genital warts are usually not painful. There are no medicines to kill the virus, but warts that are on the outside of the body can be removed. Warts on the cervix or vagina can cause changes that lead to cancer.
- Pubic Lice (Crabs)—Pubic lice are tiny insects in the genital area that cause redness and itching. You can get this from skin-to-skin contact with another person who has pubic lice. In treating it, it is important to wash all clothes, sheets and towels to get rid of the lice. Medicine can be applied to the genital area to kill the lice.
- Syphilis—This STD is caused by bacteria and usually starts with a red painless sore on the vagina, penis, tongue or throat. After a few months, it can cause fever, sore throat, headache or joint pain. It can also cause a scaly rash on the hands or feet. The disease is treated with antibiotics. If left untreated, it can cause serious health problems.
Can STDs be prevented?
The only definite way of protecting yourself against STDs is by not having sex. It only takes one sexual encounter with someone who has an STD to catch the disease. If you do decide to be sexually active, you should use a latex condom and spermicidal foam, cream or jelly.
Talk with your partner
Before having sex, ask your partner if he or she is at risk of having an STD. Someone is at high risk of having an STD if they have had sex with several partners, have used injected drugs, or have had an STD in the past. Even if you have discussed this with your partner, you should still be careful and protect yourself no matter what the person says.
What should I do if I think I have an STD?
If you think you might have an STD, or if you are at risk for getting one, you should see your primary care physician right away. If you are sexually active, tell your doctor. If you do not want your parents to find out, ask your doctor not to discuss it with them.
If you do have an STD, early treatment can help prevent serious health problems from occurring later. If your doctor gives you medicine to treat the disease, be sure to take it exactly as the doctor instructs you. Also, be sure to tell your partner(s) so that they can be treated too.