Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are commonly defined as infections that are spread by any kind of sexual intercourse, especially vaginal, oral and anal sex. With that being said, one can also get an STD by simply touching someone else’s infected area or sore/s – i.e. through skin to skin contact. While most STDs are not associated with particularly devastating symptoms, it has been found that some of them are likely to interfere with women’s ability to get pregnant if left untreated for a long time. Moreover, being extremely common and easy to pass onto others, STDs represent a growing plague both in the developed and in the developing world. Surprisingly, a recent study by the American Social Health Organization has revealed that up to 25% of teenagers in the United States are infected with an STD every year and that by the age of twenty-five, 50% of sexually active adults will probably get an STD. These statistics clearly indicate that in spite of their unpleasant consequences and global diffusion, STDs are still widely regarded as a minor problem by teenagers and young adults alike. Some of the most common STDs include chlamydia, human papilloma virus and genital warts, genital herpes, syphilis, hepatitis B and gonorrhea. Being teens at great risk of getting STDs, over the past few years medical associations and organizations have been launching numerous campaigns hoping to inform the general public about their implications and what can be done to prevent them.
As reported by the American Sexual Health Association, every year approximately three million people are infected with chlamydia, many of whom are teenagers and young adults. Contrary to popular belief, both men and women can get chlamydia, although women tend to suffer from more evident and disturbing symptoms. With that being said, chlamydia is what we may call a “dormant” or “silent” disease, as in most cases it causes no evident symptoms whatsoever and when it does, it can take up to several weeks for symptoms to develop. In this regard, researchers have found that up to seven out of ten people who have been infected with chlamydia do not experience any evident symptoms. It follows that chlamydia-infected people can easily pass their disease to their sexual partners without even realizing it, which is why as of today, chlamydia is one of the most common STDs in the United States. In order to fully understand how serious this disease can be, suffice to say that 15% of infertile women owe their inability to have children to Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID), which is a direct consequence of chlamydia. Moreover, available data indicates that a significant percentage of babies born to chlamydia-infected women get the disease. While complications in women are more frequent (as chlamydia can cause permanent damage to the uterus), men may also become infertile as a result of chlamydia. Symptoms in women include painful periods, unusual vaginal discharges, abdominal pain and cramps, fever, itching and burning in and all around the vaginal area, pain and burning when urinating, unexpected bleeding between periods and pain during sexual intercourse. On the other hand, the very few men who develop chlamydia-related symptoms are likely to experience clear discharges from the penis, pain when urinating, burning and itching around the genitals and sore and swollen testicles.
A survey by CDC researchers has showed that chlamydia is most often seen among teenagers, with female teenagers accounting for most cases. Black teenagers and teenagers from disadvantaged families and deprived communities have also been found to be at greater risk of getting chlamydia, which suggests that there may exist a positive correlation between one’s financial stability and their likelihood of being exposed to STDs like chlamydia.
Risk factors including having sex with various people, forgetting or choosing to have intercourse without adequate protection (i.e. condoms), having a high-risk sexual partner and becoming sexually active before the age of eighteen. With a significant percentage of teenagers having sexual intercourse on a regular basis and switching from one sexual partner to another, it is no surprise that STDs like chlamydia are particularly common among this age group. It is also worth pointing out that a general lack of awareness and information has contributed greatly to the current state of things, as many teenagers and young adults believe that contraceptive methods like the birth control pill and spermicides are effective in preventing STDs, when all they actually do is prevent unwanted pregnancies. The main problem is that most teenagers turn to inaccurate and potentially dangerous sources of information to learn more about sex and STDs, thus exposing themselves to a vast range of infections. As effective as antibiotics and other forms of treatment may be, it is crucial that educators and parents should be more transparent and informative when it comes to STDs, without letting their personal opinions, prejudices or feelings stop them from having open and honest conversations with those who are most at risk of getting chlamydia, as well as other STDs. With recent findings indicating that children who are raised by stable parents who are willing to talk about sex with them and show a genuine interest in their academic performance and everyday problems, it is evident that communication, transparency and financial / emotional stability are key to raising awareness about STDs, preventing teenagers from getting chlamydia and perhaps even encouraging them to wait until they are older and more mature to become sexually active.