Common Misconceptions Teens Have About STDs
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that, among U.S. high school students surveyed in 2009, 46% had sexual intercourse, which puts them at risk for pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Nearly half of the 19 million new reports of STDs each year are among young people aged 15–24 years. Clearly if almost 10 million youths are infected with STDs every year, then our teens need more information about how to protect themselves.
In today’s blog, we are going to examine some of the most common myths adolescents have about STDs and provide the facts. Please consider sharing this information with your teen:
Myth #1: Only adults get STDs.
Anyone who has any type of sexual contact is at risk of getting an STD. In fact, statistically, younger people are at the highest risk of an STD infection, and because they have their reproductive years ahead of them, they have the most to lose from getting infected. Many STDs can damage your reproductive health.
Myth #2: Only trashy or promiscuous people get STDs.
STDs are equal opportunity and they don’t discriminate. The only people who have no risk of getting an STD are people who haven’t had any kind of sexual contact. Everyone else is fair game – rich, poor, popular, geeks, smart, foolish, even someone having sex for the very first time. If you’re having sexual activity and you’re not using condoms consistently and correctly, everyone’s at risk for these infections.
Myth #3: You can’t catch an STD from having oral or anal sex.
STDs are transmitted through body fluids and/or skin contact. The skin inside the mouth and rectum are not as tough as the skin on the outside of our body, so in fact, the transmission rate of these infections is just as high for oral and anal sex as it is for vaginal sex.
Myth #4: You can tell if someone has an STD.
So many teens believe that they will be able to tell if someone is infected just by looking at their genitals. This is completely false. Most STDs are not usually visible at all. Even with the human papillomavirus (HPV), which causes genital warts, a person can have the virus and not have the warts. In most cases, people with the HPV virus give it to others without knowing they are infected, according to the CDC. Doctors generally need to take blood or conduct other tests to determine if someone has an STD because STDs do not always exhibit symptoms. Additionally, some STDs, such as HPV, do not have an accurate test available.
Myth #5: You can get an STD from a toilet seat.
False. The viruses or bacteria that cause STDs cannot survive outside of the human body for very long. You cannot acquire an STD by sitting on a toilet.
Myth #6: You can’t get an STD if you only have sex once.
As soon as you have sexual contact, you are at risk of an STD. If your partner has an STD, then it doesn’t matter if you are a virgin, as soon as you have sexual contact with them, you are at risk for infection.
Myth #7: If you have sex in a hot tub or pool, the chlorine or heat will kill any STD you might catch.
False. The temperature of the water or the dilution of the chlorine will not kill STDs. The only way to protect yourself if you are having sex is to use condoms consistently and correctly every time.
Myth #8: Two condoms are better than one.
Using two condoms during sex can cause friction between the condoms that increases the risk of breakage and leakage. Doctors recommend keeping it simple… just use one condom each and every time you have sex.
Teens should also know that latex condoms are the best protection, and that condoms should be placed on as soon as there is an erection because there is usually some ejaculate released during foreplay.
Myth #9: You can only get the same STD once.
STDs that are caused by viruses, such as HIV and herpes, are yours for life. They cannot be treated, only managed. Other STDs, such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, or syphilis, can be treated and cured, but you can easily be infected again if you have sexual contact with someone who has them. You do not develop immunity to these diseases, and you must practice abstinence or safe sex to avoid them.
Myth #10: You can only catch herpes when the other person is having an outbreak.
According to the CDC, most people infected with the herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2), which causes most cases of genital herpes, don’t know they’re infected and can spread the virus even when they don’t have visible sores.
Myth #11: If you have an STD, you can just take antibiotics and it will go away.
For the bacterial STDs, it is true that antibiotics are highly effective. About 95% to 98% of the time when you take the antibiotic your infection will go away. But sometimes damage has already been done if you’ve already had the infection for a while before you got treated.
Viral STDs are harder to treat. Antiviral medications don’t cure the infections, they just reduce the symptoms. Once you are off your medication for herpes and sometimes for HIV, your virus can increase and you can be more likely to transmit it to a partner.
Tell your teen they only need to remember these essential truths:
- The only way to 100% avoid STDs (and pregnancy) is not to have sex – of any form.
- If you do have sex, use a condom every time.
- If you have had sex, get tested for STDs.