Expert Answers Factual Answers to Your Sexual Health Questions

Anonymous on August 15, 2011

Are sexually active teens at higher risk for STDs?

I have a friend who's 16 and sexually active...I was wondering if there are any physical risks involved in having sex that young.

answered by Linda Lesondak, PhD on August 15, 2011

You sound like a very caring friend. I’ll do my best to answer your question and provide you some additional information.

Yes, teens who have sex are at a greater risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and becoming pregnant.One study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)showed that almost half (48%) of all new STD cases in the United States are among young people, ages 15-24. Yet 14- to-24-year-olds only represent 25% of sexually active people. Related, the CDC says that the teen birth rate in the United States is “unacceptably high,” noting that about 4% of all teenage girls give birth each year.

To prevent STDs and pregnancy, your friend should always use a latex condom or dental dam during all sexual activity, including vaginal, anal and oral sex, as well as genital rubbing (or dry humping). In fact, using condoms correctly is one of the most effective ways to prevent STDs, according to a study by the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Also, anyone who’s sexually active – especially if they have multiple sexual partners whose STD status they don’t know – can benefit from testing for common STDs at least once a year. To learn about about STD risks, prevention and testing, you and your friend may want to read through our Expert Guide to STD Basics.

Did you know teenagers can get most STD tests without guardian permission? All 50 states follow “self-consent for diagnosis and treatment of STD” laws. But state laws do vary, limiting which STD tests you can have without adult consent. Please check with a local doctor, clinic or health department to find out what the rules are for your state. Your friend may also want to visit a local Planned Parenthood clinic to discuss STD testing or birth control options.

Finally, if your friend seems unable to cope with the stress of sexual relations, please encourage counseling. Safer sex practices and regular testing will help protect your friend from the potential physical risks of being sexually active. But there are emotional risks, too...it’s not uncommon for teens to feel overwhelmed by the emotional impact of being physically intimate. A trusted family doctor or close, mature adult may be able to help refer your friend to someone who can help.

Thanks again for writing to us. You’re a good friend, and I hope this information is helpful.

Related info:

Linda Lesondak, PhD

Dr. Lesondak is a Community Psychologist with the Chicago Department of Public Health. Her areas of expertise include STDs, HIV, preventive care, public health and community planning, as well as human sexuality and women’s health. Dr. Lesondak was educated at Georgia University in Atlanta.

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