Sexually Transmitted Infections
(For Parents of Teenagers with Typical Development)
Note: This article's not just for you – share it with your teen.
There’s a popular saying, “When you jump into bed with someone, you’re jumping into bed with all of their past partners too.” You’re not really having sex with someone else’s past partners, but if one of those past partners had a sexually transmitted infection, your partner may be passing it along to you.
How Much Do You Already Know?
Sexually transmitted infections are common – too common – so let’s make sure you know the basics about them. See how well you do in answering the following questions:
What do we mean by sexually transmitted infections? [Answer: Infections that can be spread through sex.]
A lot of people think we’re just talking about vaginal sex, but we’re not…
Can you get a sexually transmitted infection from oral sex? [Answer: Yes.]
Can you get a sexually transmitted infection from anal sex? [Answer: Yes.]
Yeah, if you’re talking about preventing pregnancy, you’re talking about vaginal sex. But if you’re talking about preventing sexually transmitted infections, you’re talking about vaginal, oral, and anal sex.
Really Important Note: You get to decide what sexual activities you want to engage in. That’s right… it’s your decision, not your partner’s decision. We’ve just mentioned a couple of activities that you may not have even heard of before – oral sex or anal sex. We’re not recommending you try these things – we’re just talking about them because we know that people engage in these activities even when they don’t understand the risks. So, if these activities don’t interest you, don’t do them. There’s nothing wrong with you – everyone has their likes and dislikes – so choose what you want to do, tell your partner what you want to do, and don’t stay with a partner who forces you to do the things you don’t want to do.
Back to the questions…
Can you name some sexually transmitted infections? [Answer: Your list should include syphilis, herpes, gonorrhea, Chlamydia, hepatitis B, human papilloma virus (HPV), and HIV/AIDS. You may have also heard about genital warts – they are caused by HPV. This is not the complete list of sexually transmitted infections.]
Syphilis, gonorrhea, and Chlamydia are caused by bacteria. HPV, HIV/AIDS, herpes, and hepatitis B are caused by viruses. What’s the big difference? [Answer: There are no cures for sexually transmitted infections caused by viruses. All sexually transmitted infections can be treated but only bacterial infections can be cured.]
What are some of the symptoms of a sexually transmitted infection? [Answer: Pain or burning during urination; sores, warts, blisters, swellings, bumps, or a rash on or around the vulva, penis, or anus (these may or may not be painful); discharge or strange smell coming from the penis; unusual discharge or strange smell coming from the vagina; burning, pain, or itching in or around the vagina, penis, or anus; pain during sex; any bleeding from the penis, and; unusual bleeding from the vagina.]
What should you do if you have any of these symptoms? [Answer: Go to your healthcare provider or a reproductive healthcare clinic to get tested and treated. If you have a bacterial infection, don’t have sex until you are cured. If you have an infection that can’t be cured, such as herpes or HPV, learn how to protect partners from getting infected too.]
Sometimes, sexually transmitted infections have no symptoms at all. What kinds of problems can that cause? [Answer: You won’t get treated and you can spread the infection without even knowing you have it.]
What can happen if you get some of these sexually transmitted infections? [Answer: That depends. Some cause death (HIV/AIDS, hepatitis B, and syphilis), some cause sterility (gonorrhea and Chlamydia), some cause heart trouble and blindness (gonorrhea and syphilis), and some cause pre-cancerous changes in the cervix (HPV).
What does AIDS stand for? [Answer: Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome or Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome.]
A lot of times when you hear AIDS mentioned, you also hear about HIV. What does HIV stand for?” [Answer: Human Immunodeficiency Virus.]
What is HIV? [Answer: The virus that causes AIDS.]
Is that the same thing, being infected with HIV and having AIDS? [Answer: No, AIDS is the illness caused by HIV. Some people may be infected with HIV for a few months or many years before they get AIDS. Other people may be infected with HIV and never get AIDS because of the medications they are taking.]
Are sexually active teens at risk of getting a sexually transmitted infection? [Answer: Yes. One in four sexually active American teenagers gets a sexually transmitted infection every year. Half of all Americans get a sexually transmitted infection at some time in their lives.]
If you have sex with somebody who doesn’t have a sexually transmitted infection, can they give you one? [Answer: No. Sexually transmitted infections don’t appear magically. You get one from somebody who already has one.]
Preventing the Spread of Sexually Transmitted Infections
Here are some of the ways to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted infections:
1. Combine abstinence with refusing to share needles for drug use. Abstinence means not having vaginal, oral, or anal sex. Some sexually transmitted infections can also be spread by sharing needles with a person who has the disease. HIV/AIDS and hepatitis B can both be spread this way.
2. Have only one mutually faithful, uninfected sexual partner.
3. Limit the number of sexual partners you have.
4. Talk with your sexual partners about sexually transmitted infections, using condoms, your sexual health, and your sexual history. It’s embarrassing to talk about this kind of stuff, but here’s a good rule: If you can’t talk about sex, then you shouldn’t be doing it. That’s how important it is to talk about these things.
It may be hard to talk about your sexual history if you’ve already slept with a lot of people. It could certainly be a turn-off for your current partner. Here’s how to handle this situation: Don’t give an exact number; just say, “I’ve slept with other people in the past so it might be a good idea for me to get tested before we have sex.”
5. Check out your partner. Look for sores, warts, blisters, swellings, bumps, a rash, or discharge from the sexual organs. If you see anything that worries you, don't have sex!
6. Get tested for sexually transmitted infections. To learn more about testing, read Testing for Sexually Transmitted Infections.
7. Use condoms for vaginal and anal sex. Use unlubricated condoms for oral sex on a male. Condoms are extremely effective in preventing the spread of most sexually transmitted infections, but they do not protect against the spread of herpes or genital warts unless the condom is covering the sores or warts.
8. Use dental dams or cut-open unlubricated condoms for oral sex on a woman and for rimming (oral-anal contact).
9. Enjoy safer sexual activities – including holding hands, hugging, kissing, body massage, rubbing up against your partner while both of you are fully clothed, showering together, masturbation, mutual masturbation, sex toys, cybersex, and phone sex.
10. Be aware that alcohol and other drugs can affect the decisions you make regarding sexual behaviors. 80% of all first sexual experiences occur under the influence of alcohol.