Sexual Health and STDs
Anytime you are sexually active, you may become pregnant. This can happen anytime you have sex around the time you ovulate (your ovary releases an egg). It is only possible to get pregnant about three days out of every month. However, you are at risk of getting a sexually transmitted infection (STI) or a sexually transmitted disease (STD) every time you have sex. So, even though getting pregnant may be your biggest concern right now, getting an STI/STD is equally concerning.
What are sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)?
STDs are diseases that are passed from one person to another through sexual contact. These include chlamydia, gonorrhea, genital herpes, human papillomavirus (HPV), syphilis, and HIV. Many of these STDs do not show symptoms for a long time. Even without symptoms, they can still be harmful and passed on during sex.
How are STDs spread?
You can get an STD by having vaginal, anal or oral sex with someone who has an STD. Anyone who is sexually active can get an STD. You don’t even have to “go all the way” (have anal or vaginal sex) to get an STD. This is because some STDs, like herpes and HPV, are spread by skin-to-skin contact.
How common are STDs?
STDs are common, especially among young people. There are about 20 million new cases of STDs each year in the United States. About half of these infections are in people between the ages of 15 and 24. Young people are at greater risk of getting an STD for several reasons:
Young women’s bodies are biologically more prone to STDs.
Some young people do not get the recommended STD tests.
Many young people are hesitant to talk openly and honestly with a doctor or nurse about their sex lives.
Not having insurance or transportation can make it more difficult for young people to access STD testing.
Some young people have more than one sex partner.
What can I do to protect myself?
The surest way to protect yourself against STDs is to not have sex. That means not having any vaginal, anal, or oral sex (“abstinence”). There are many things to consider before having sex. It’s okay to say “no” if you don’t want to have sex.
Make sure you get the health care you need. Ask a doctor or nurse about STD testing and about vaccines against HPV and hepatitis B.
Girls and young women may have extra needs to protect their reproductive health. Talk to your doctor or nurse about regular cervical cancer screening, and chlamydia and gonorrhea testing.
If I get an STD, how will I know?
Many STDs don’t cause any symptoms that you would notice. The only way to know for sure if you have an STD is to get tested. You can get an STD from having sex with someone who has no symptoms. Just like you, that person might not even know he or she has an STD.
Can STDs be treated?
Your doctor can prescribe medicine to cure some STDs, like chlamydia and gonorrhea. Other STDs, like herpes, can’t be cured, but you can take medicine to help with the symptoms.
If you are ever treated for an STD, be sure to finish all of your medicine, even if you feel better before you finish it all. Ask the doctor or nurse about testing and treatment for your partner, too. You and your partner should avoid having sex until you’ve both been treated. Otherwise, you may continue to pass the STD back and forth. It is possible to get an STD again (after you’ve been treated) if you have sex with someone who has an STD.
What happens if I don’t treat an STD?
Some curable STDs can be dangerous if they aren’t treated. For example, if left untreated, chlamydia and gonorrhea can make it difficult—or even impossible—for a woman to get pregnant. You also increase your chances of getting HIV if you have an untreated STD. Some STDs, like HIV, can be fatal if left untreated.
Most women do not have symptoms with an STI/STD and so would not even know they were infected without testing.
What about STI/STDs and abortion?
If you have an abortion with an undiagnosed STI/STD, you have a greater risk of developing PID or pelvic inflammatory disease. PID often leads to chronic pelvic pain as well as a greater risk of infertility (not being able to have children) and having an ectopic or tubal pregnancy later.
Where can I get more information?
You will need to be sure you get your information from a reliable source. Those listed below are unbiased and will give you accurate and truthful information.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: CDC
HealthFinder.gov: STD Testing: Conversation Starters
American Sexual Health Association: Teens and Young Adults