STD Rates Increasing Among Youth

According to the 2020 STD Surveillance Report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cases of gonorrhea rose 10% by the end of the year, and rates of syphilis were up 7%, and both these rates were up approximately 50% over 5 years. More than half of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) reported in 2020 were in people ages 15 to 24.

With these increases, experts are urging parents to talk to their children about STDs. For many parents of teenagers, the idea of discussing STDs with their kids seems awkward, challenging and even frightening, but these are important conversations to have.

Experts encourage parents to start conversations about sex and puberty early and slowly build on your child’s understanding over time.  By about 10–13 years old, most kids understand what sex is and are ready to learn about STDs. Middle school is an ideal time to start this talk because most tweens aren’t sexually active and you can have a conversation about healthy relationships as a whole, with protection against STDs being one part of it. However, if your child is older and you haven’t had the conversation, it’s never too late to start.

Here are some conversation tips for parents:

How Do I Bring Up the Subject of STDs?

Sometimes it can be hard to find the right time to talk about STDs. A good time to start the conversation might be:

  • If your child asks questions about sex.
  • During a TV show or movie that shows a romantic relationship. You might ask, “What sorts of things do people in a relationship need to think about?” You can make this a broad conversation about healthy relationships, with STD prevention as one aspect.
  • When your child receives the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine. You could say, “This shot protects you from a type of STD. Do you know what a STD is?”
  • Use a song that is on the radio, current event or something you saw on social media as a way to discuss sex and/or relationships.
  • Begin your conversations with an “I” statement, such as, “I’ve heard that more teens are getting STDs and I’m wondering what you know or might have heard.”

What Should I Talk About?

Parents should provide facts (the CDC website offers great fact sheets) and avoid scare tactics, which have been proven in studies to backfire with adolescents. Cover these key points:

  • Acknowledge that STDs are common, preventable, and also manageable with responsible testing and treatment.
  • STDs mainly spread through sexual intercourse. But some STDs can spread through close contact with someone’s genitals or body fluids.
  • The best way to completely prevent an STD is to not have sex (oral, vaginal, or anal). If you decide to have sex, using a latex condom every time can prevent most STDs.
  • You can get an STD the very first time you have sex.
  • Many STDs have no symptoms. You or your partner might not know you have a disease, and that disease can spread even while someone looks and feels healthy.
  • Some people with an STD have discharge from the vagina or penis, or sores in the genital area.
  • If someone has an STD and does not get treatment, it can lead to medical problems such as long-term pain and infertility.
  • Antibiotics can cure some STDs (like chlamydia and gonorrhea), but some STDs (like herpes or HIV) have no cure.
  • If your partner tells you they have been diagnosed with a STD, you must go to the doctor to get screened.
  • You should go to the doctor if you ever notice any genital sores, bleeding or rashes, painful or frequent urination, or any unusual or changing genital discharge.

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