Sexually Transmitted Diseases

Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) refer to a variety of bacterial, viral and parasitic infections that are acquired through sexual activity. STDs are passed by through contact with the genitals, skin, mouth, rectum, or body fluids. Anyone having sex of any kind is at risk.

Are STDs a big problem?

The U.S. has the highest STD rates of any country in the industrialized world. Approximately 18.9 million new cases of STDs (excluding HIV) occur each year in the U.S.. More than half of all people will be infected with an STD at some point in their lifetime. 25% of sexually active teenagers have an STD and 20% of Americans over the age of 12 has genital herpes - a 500% increase since 1976. New studies show that teenage girls have a 46% chance of contracting HPV (Human Papiloma Virus) at their first sexual encounter which is a disease that is directly connected to 99.7% of cervical cancers and kills 5,000 women each year.

Sexually active men and women may be at risk for (STD). Risk is directly linked to the number of sexual partners the individual or his/her partner(s) have had. It is estimated that over 20% of individuals with more than one partner have a STD. Consistent condom use significantly reduces the risk of exposure to many sexually transmitted infections. Each year 9 million new cases of STDs occur among young people aged 15-24. Sexually active youth have the highest STD rates of any age group in the country.

The risk is extremely low for a couple which has only had intimate contact (genital/genital, oral/genital, anal/genital, finger vaginal/anal) with each other and has never had any form of intimate sexual contact with others.

Who are at risk for STDs?

Young people are at the greatest risk because, as a group, they are more likely to have unprotected sex and more partners. People are also at risk if they have had close sexual contact with another person (or their partner(s) have), or if they had sex with someone with an STD.

What are the effects of STDs?

STDs can make you sick or cause permanent harm to your body (like infertility) and can cause severe pain, illness, cervical cancer and even death. Some STDs, like herpes, human papilloma virus (HPV), and HIV/AIDs, have no cure. Pregnant women with STDs are at greater risk of miscarriage and premature delivery. In some cases they can also transmit the infection to their babies. This all means that early diagnosis and treatment gives the best chance for curing the disease and preventing further spread to others.

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Written by an OB/GYN with over 25 years experience in adolescent health care in Canada, West Indies, Europe and the US.