In 2018, 1 in 5 people in the U.S. had a sexually transmitted infection (STI), and half of those cases were among teens and young adults. STD rates among teens are much higher than in other population groups, likely due to a lack of access to education and resources on sex and STDs.
At Rapid STD Testing, we want to help educate teens and adults about STIs and STDs to lessen the stigma. Knowing about STDs can help prevent you from acquiring severe health issues from untreated infections.
In this article, we provide teen STD facts, statistics on STDs, information on the most common STD among teens, and a guide on how to avoid infections.
The terms sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) sound similar, and many people use them interchangeably. However, they technically have different meanings. STIs are infections (bacteria, viruses, etc.) that could develop into diseases without timely treatment. As the pathogens spread, they begin to affect bodily functions and become STDs.
Some STIs, like the human papillomavirus (HPV), might go away on their own without developing severe symptoms and turning into an STD. The HPV vaccine can also prevent them. Some medical professionals consider STI a more accurate term than STD since many of the most common infections, such as chlamydia, can be asymptomatic.
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Half of the 26 million new STDs in the U.S. in 2018 were in young people aged 15 to 24. Teens have a higher risk of contracting STDs because of a lack of sex education, little access to STD testing resources, and unsafe sex practices (like not using a condom). Teenage girls are the most vulnerable to contracting STDs.
The most common STDs in girls between 14 and 19 years old are HPV, chlamydia, trichomoniasis, and genital herpes. Young women are more susceptible to contracting STDs and developing serious health complications, such as cervical cancer and infertility.
Many teens avoid talking to their parents or doctors about symptoms because of the stigma and the myths regarding STDs.
STIs are infections passed through bodily fluids, touching, kissing, etc., similar to the way people contract a cold or flu. Despite how common they are, teens have a negative view of people who catch STDs. Too embarrassed to speak up when they find their own symptoms, they let their infections evolve into severe symptoms.
Chlamydia is one of the most common STIs, but 70% to 95% of women and 90% of men experience no symptoms, making it difficult to know when they need to see a doctor. Most cases are in teens and young adults, with teen girls having the highest number of infections.
An untreated chlamydia infection can permanently damage the uterus, causing pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) or infertility. Pregnant women can also pass the STI onto their babies. Among those infants, 30% to 40% develop symptoms, such as pneumonia.
Complications like these are why it’s vital for teens to learn how to have safe sex and avoid STIs and teen pregnancy.
A combination of poor sexual education and the absence of access to testing and treatment makes teens more vulnerable to STDs. Only 20% of sexually-active teenagers report that they’ve ever gotten an STD test, even though around 40% of all teens are sexually active with at least one sex partner.
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The most common STD among teens is HPV, followed by chlamydia, gonorrhea, HIV, genital herpes, PID, and syphilis. Most of them are curable through antibiotics or other medicine, but some infections never go away. Below, we’ll give you the rundown on the most common STDs in teenagers.
HIV is a virus that can lead to AIDs, which severely impacts your body’s immune function. This weakness puts you at higher risk if you contract serious diseases like pneumonia or tuberculosis.
Most people who contract HIV are asymptomatic, but some experience flu-like symptoms such as fever, headache, and fatigue. Most HIV infections spread through sexual activities and sharing needles for drug injections.
While HIV doesn’t have a cure, medication and treatment allow infected individuals to live a long, healthy life and prevent spreading the disease to others.
Most sexually active people will contract human papillomavirus (HPV) at some point in their lives, and it’s the most common STD in teenagers.
Herpes simplex virus (HSV) and HPV spreads through contact during sex, infecting the genitals, mouth, or throat. Many people have no symptoms, but some will develop genital warts (HPV) or sores (HSV). Herpes has no cure, but medication can manage outbreaks. On the other hand, HPV usually disappears on its own within a couple of years. The HPV vaccine is the best way to prevent infection.
Individuals with gonorrhea often have few or no symptoms. They might experience white or yellow discharge from their genitals or painful urination. Men could have swollen testicles, and women might notice spotting between periods or pelvic pain.
Without antibiotics, gonorrhea can lead to severe health conditions like PID and infertility. The infection spreads during vaginal, anal, and oral sex, and a mother could pass it to her infant during childbirth.
Genital herpes comes from the HSV-2 virus and is highly contagious. Coming into contact with the sores that the infection causes is enough to contract herpes, whether it’s through touching, kissing, or sexual contact. Though you can catch it easily, it can be hard to tell when you do because there are often no signs or symptoms.
Those who do experience symptoms have blisters on their genitals, mouth, buttocks, or anus. Similar to HSV-1, there’s no cure, but medication can manage the side effects and prevent outbreaks in the future.
Chlamydia is a bacterial infection that usually has no symptoms. However, some people might have discharge from the penis or vagina and painful urination. The STI spreads through contact with the genitals, mouth, or anus during sex with an infected person.
Antibiotics clear up the infection, but it’s possible to contract it again in the future. If you don’t get treatment for chlamydia, it can lead to infertility or PID in women.
The bacteria that cause syphilis can spread during sex through sores that develop on the genitals, lips, and mouth. Symptoms can start showing months after infection and could last for years without antibiotics. The typical signs are genital sores and rashes on your hands or feet.
If syphilis reaches the later stages, symptoms can progress to paralysis, brain damage, blindness, and death. It’s crucial for sexually active people to get routine screenings to avoid letting syphilis and other STDs go undetected.
Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) is a complication of untreated STDs, usually chlamydia and gonorrhea. If the bacteria spread to the reproductive organs of an infected woman, she might experience symptoms including the following:
With the high rates of STDs in teens, young people need to know how to stay safe and take care of their reproductive health. Sexual health services can provide education, support, and testing, but many teenagers either hesitate to make the first move or don’t know how.
All states in the U.S. allow minors to consent to STI testing services, though some require the teen to be a certain age (typically between 12 and 14). Teenagers should take advantage of these services to avoid the extreme consequences of ignoring STD symptoms. In some cases, untreated STDs can lead to infertility, inflammatory diseases, weakened immune function, or death.
Most treatments for STDs involve taking a course of antibiotics or other medications that won’t disrupt your daily life. Some STDs have no cure, but you should still see your doctor to manage your symptoms and prevent complications.
Some children and teens could contract STDs through nonconsensual sexual behaviors. If a young person has experienced abuse, they should receive STD screening immediately so they can begin treatment for any infections.
STD rates among teens and adolescents are shockingly high, but many young people refuse to talk about their experiences due to shame. This hesitation can cause teens to experience severe side effects from untreated STDs. We can combat this by ensuring that all young adults receive proper education on the most common STD among teens and receive access to STI health and testing services.
At Rapid STD Testing, we provide fast, secure same-day STD testing services near you. Visit our website to order tests or find a local lab.