It can be hard to think about illness when you’re feeling attracted to someone. But sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are serious stuff, and you owe it to yourself to know the facts. The truth is that STIs spread very easily, and young people have been hit hard by them. And untreated STIs can cause some pretty scary health problems. These include problems with your reproductive system, like not being able to have children when you want to. They include pain, cancer, and permanent damage to your body.
What are sexually transmitted infections (STIs)?
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are infections that are caused by many different types of bacteria and viruses (and even tiny insects). You can get an STI by having sexual contact with someone who already has one. That means you can get an STI through sexual intercourse, or by putting your mouth, hands, or genitals on the genitals or on the sores of someone who is infected. Women who have sex with women also are at risk for some STIs.
How are STIs spread?
You can get an STI by having sex (vaginal, anal or oral) with someone who has an STI. Anyone who is sexually active can get an STI. You don’t even have to “go all the way” (have anal or vaginal sex) to get an STI, since some STIs, like herpes and HPV, are spread by skin-to-skin contact.
Can STIs be cured for good?
Some STIs can be treated and cured and will go away completely. Even if you get treated, though, you can get the STI again if you continue to have sex — especially if you have unprotected sex. Make sure to ask your doctor or nurse about treatment for your partner. Otherwise, you might just keep giving the infection back and forth to each other. Some STIs CAN’T be cured, but you can get help with the symptoms. A few STIs can put your life in danger if they are not treated.
How common are STIs?
STIs are common, especially among young people. There are about 20 million new cases of STIs each year in the United States, and about half of these are in people between the ages of 15 and 24. Young people are at greater risk of getting an STI for several reasons:
- Young women’s bodies are biologically more susceptible to STIs.
- Some young people do not get the recommended STI tests.
- Many young people are hesitant to talk openly and honestly with a doctor or nurse about their sex lives.
- Not having insurance or transportation can make it more difficult for young people to access STI testing.
- Some young people have more than one sex partner.
How can I keep from getting STI?
The surest way to avoid getting an STI is NOT to have sexual intercourse or other kinds of intimate sexual contact. Even waiting to have sex until you are older lowers your chances of getting an STI. It’s also a good idea to stay away from drugs and alcohol, which can lead to having unsafe sex.