Health column: Be smart about STIs
April 13, 2013
April showers may bring May flowers, but April also brings awareness to a subject we'd rather not think about, especially when it comes to our children: sexually transmitted infections. This year there will be 20 million new cases of sexually transmitted infections diagnosed in the U.S., bringing the total number of STIs to 110 million. Over half of these newly diagnosed STIs occur in young people under age 25, although this age group only accounts for 25 percent of the total sexually active population. Half of all sexually active young people will get an STI before their 25th birthday. Treating these STIs will cost $16 billion.
Most of my patients, teenagers as well as older women, think only of vaginal intercourse when they think of sex. However, any intimate act, can lead to the transmission of an STI. HPV a virus which causes genital warts and cervical cancer, can also lead to oral and anal cancers. Gonorrhea and chlamydia can infect the throat too. Cold sores (herpes type 1) can become sexually transmitted through oral sex.
In order to decrease the risk of contracting an STI two basic steps are needed:
1. Use your brain. Talk to a potential sexual partner about your sexual histories, including number of partners and any prior STIs. Limit the number of sexual partners you have — the more people you have sex with and the more people they have had sex with, the more likely there is an STI ready for transmission. Get tested, both of you, before having sex.
2) Use a condom (male or female) or dental dam (square of latex) during all intimate acts! Condoms and dental dams do not eliminate the risk of transmitting or getting a STI, but they do lower the risk. The only truly "safe" sex is no sex at all, but if abstinence is not what you choose, then at least choose to protect yourself with these tools.
As a gynecologist and as a mom, this is a message to all teenagers: I am not naïve enough to think that telling you not to have sex will keep you from having sex, but I hope to arm you with information to make smart choices. Ideally, the choice would be to wait to have sex — two thirds of teens surveyed state they wish they had waited until they were older to have sex. Avoid drinking alcohol and using drugs, both of which impair your ability to make good decisions and both of which can put you in situations where you may not be able to protect yourself (as was the case in Steubenville, Ohio). And if you are already sexually active — or even thinking about it — either talk to your parents or a health care professional to protect yourself, not only from pregnancy, but from STIs. All 50 states allow teens to seek confidential care for contraception and detection and treatment of STIs.
Dr. Kelly Shanahan is a board-certified gynecologist who has lived and practiced in South Lake Tahoe for the past 19 years, She also has an office in Minden, NV. Call 530-542-4961 or 775-782-7300 to schedule your appointment.