Sexual health is more than the absence of disease; it's the presence of self-knowledge and body acceptance, motivation to stay healthy, the ability to communicate what we do and do not want, and much more. Because sexuality is such a complex dimension of development, communities, schools, and families all have roles to play in supporting young people's well-being. However, many youth grow up in environments that do not adequately prioritize their health, leaving young people to bear the burden of high rates of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and adolescent pregnancy.
On this page we provide information drawn from the presentation STD Basics for Health Educators by Dr. Taylor Starr, and from the CDC. View Dr. Starr's slides for more detail, including information about the prevalence of STDs in New York State counties.
STD BasicsMost common STDs are classified by the organism that causes the disease: bacteria, virus, or protozoa.
- Bacterial infections can generally be treated with an antibiotic and "cured"; however, any damage done because of delayed or inadequate treatment may be irreversible, reinfection is common, and when there has been inadequate treatment or partners are not treated, the infection is passed back and forth.
- Viral infections can be managed and minimized with antiviral medications, but not cured. They stay in the body for life.
- Protozoan infections can be treated with medication and cured, but re-infection is common.
PrevalenceYouth age 15-24 make up one-quarter of sexually experienced people in the U.S.; however, half of the 20 million new cases of STDs each year are among youth. Teens age 15-19 accounted for 22% of gonorrhea and 28% of chlamydia cases reported in 2013, and rates have risen since then (see the CDC report STDs in Adolescents and Young Adults). Men who have sex with men are also disproportionately affected, especially by syphilis and HIV.
PreventionSuccessful prevention extends beyond a narrow focus on individual responsibility: It addresses community and family risk and protective factors to create an environment that promotes adolescent health. At the individual level, youth can reduce their risk by:
- Abstaining from vaginal, anal, and oral sex
- Using condoms correctly every time
- Using condoms and dental dams for oral sex
- Obtaining the HPV vaccination
- Practicing mutual monogamy
- Reducing the number of sex partners
- Avoiding drugs and alcohol, which can impair sexual decision making
- Using a water-based lubricant with condoms (to decrease the chance that the condom will break)
- Avoiding sex with anyone who has symptoms of an STD
- Avoiding sex with anyone who uses IV drugs
- Regular STD screening for all partners
- Pre-exposure prophylaxis for HIV
Screening and TreatmentWhen caught in early stages, most STDs are easily treated; those that cannot be cured can be managed. Screening is important for sexually active people, including adolescents. Often no visible signs or symptoms will be present and infection can be discovered only through screening. Tests are usually performed through simple urine or blood tests, or visual inspection if lesions or warts are present. Treatment in early stages typically involves antibiotics (oral and/or injection), antiviral medication, or topical medication. For more detail, see STD Basics for Health Educators.
ResourcesCenters for Disease Control and Prevention: Sexually Transmitted Diseases
New York State Department of Health: Sexually Transmitted Diseases
Young Men's Health: Sexually Transmitted Infections
Center for Young Women's Health: Sexually Transmitted Infections