Sexually Transmitted Diseases

Diseases that are transmitted by sexual behavior are caused by infection with bacteria, viruses, parasites, fungi and protozoa that are transmitted from infected genitalia. The most dangerous sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), the HIV and 50% of hepatitis B are well known to be transmitted invasively only by secretions or blood containing the virus. This means that such transmissions do not depend exclusively on sexual contact, although in all likelihood microlesions can be caused by sexual behavior.

Though there is a lack of worldwide, evidence-based epidemiologic data, published trends show that STDs are a significant health problem both in developed and developing countries. As early as 1996, WHO estimated that more than 1 million people were being infected daily (table 1). About 60% of these infections occur in young people <25 years of age, and 30% of this age group is <20 years. Between the ages of 14 and 19, STDs occur more frequently in girls than boys by a ratio of nearly 2:1; this equalizes by age 20.

The yearly rate of new cases of viral hepatitis B is estimated at 20 million, and it is presumed that 350 million people are chronically infected, particularly in Africa and Asia, meaning 3 - 5% of the world's population. In 2000, 53 million people were registered as being infected with HIV, with 95% of them in developing countries. Besides HIV and hepatitis B, more than 20 other types of STDs are known, the most common of which are infections of Chlamydia, Neisseria gonorrhoeae, human papilloma virus (HPV), herpes simplex virus (HSV-1, HSV-2) and syphilis (table 2). It should not be necessary to emphasize that infection by one STD tends to increase the risk of infection by other STDs.

Epidemiologic trends for STDs obviously differ throughout the world and mostly depend on escalating contradictions in social developments. A good example is the huge social changes in socialist countries as they open and adapt to the market economy: The 3-fold increase in gonorrhea and 20-fold increase in syphilis from 1989 to 1998 in the People's Republic of China is similar to findings in Mongolia. The changed situation in Lithuania of the former Soviet Union is also symptomatic, where a 10-fold increase in gonorrhea and a 50-fold increase in syphilis were registered from 1990 to 1996. The increase in syphilis in 18- to 19-year-old women, however, is reported to have grown 200-fold.

Here are some good facts to keep in mind regarding STDs:

  • STDs are common. 1 in 4 teenage girls and an equally alarming number of teen guys have an STD right now.
  • STDs are treatable. All of them. Some are even curable.
  • STDs are sneaky. Most of the time an STD doesn't produce any symptoms.
  • You cannot tell by looking at someone whether he or she is infected with HIV or another STD.
  • Using drugs and alcohol increases your chances of getting STDs because these substances can interfere with your judgment and your ability to use a condom properly
  • If you have had unprotected sex, you may have a STD and not know it.
  • If your partner has had unprotected sex, your partner may have a STD and not know it.
  • If left untreated, STDs can lead to long-term consequences, like infertility, long-term pain or cancer.
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    The very different frequencies of STDs that have been reported are mostly caused by different diagnostic methods with more or less sensitivity and selectivity (see table 11). Another significant problem is the often too small size of the samples selected for the spot checks. Specific determinants of STD epidemiology include sexual education, sexual behavior, and demographic and sociological factors, as well as such crucial, quality of health care factors as accessible pharmaceutics, available diagnostic and screening methods and treatment. The synergy of these factors ultimately determines the incidence of sexually transmitted infections and their complications.

    The Realities of Teens and Sexually Transmitted Diseases

    According to the Centers for Disease Control and other medical sources, these are the surprising facts about teens and sexually transmitted diseases. Educate yourself and your teen, to avoid becoming infected with any STD.

    • Teens make up about one quarter of the 12 million STD cases reported annually.
    • Every year about one in four sexually active teens contract an STD, about 3 million people.
    • In a single act of unprotected sex with an infected partner, a teenage woman has a 30 percent risk of getting genital herpes and a 50 percent chance of contacting gonorrhea.
    • Chlamydia is the most commonly reported infectious disease in the United States, and may be one of the most dangerous STDs among women today.
    • An estimated one in four sexually active teens have chlamydia. Seventy-five percent of infected women, and 50 percent of infected men have no symptoms.
    • The number one risk factor for cervical cancer is early sexual activity, the second is multiple sex partners.
    • Human Papalloma Virus (HPV) is likely the most common STD among young, sexually-active populations.
    • One in six sexually active teens contract HPV, which can cause pain, genital warts and cancer.
    • Half of all sexually active young women end up contracting HPV - 20 percent eventually recover, but 80 percent are afflicted the rest of their lives.
    • As of 1995, 30 percent of teens (15-19) use contraception.
    • Every year 1 in 5 women aged 15 to 19 who have had sex become pregnant.
    • Thirteen percent of all US births are to teens.

    Adolescents, and particularly those who are already sexually active, are at higher risk of acquiring STDs because of a lack of knowledge and sexual education.

    » » Risk Factors » »

    If I get an STD, how will I know?

    Many STDs don't cause any symptoms that you would notice, so the only way to know for sure if you have an STD is to get tested. You can get an STD from having sex with someone who has no symptoms. Just like you, that person might not even know he or she has an STD.

    Where can I get tested?

    There are places that offer teen-friendly, confidential, and free STD tests. This means that no one has to find out you've been tested. Visit to find an STD testing location near you.

    Can STDs be treated?

    Your doctor can prescribe medicines to cure some STDs, like chlamydia and gonorrhea. Other STDs, like herpes, can't be cured, but you can take medicine to help with the symptoms.

    If you are ever treated for an STD, be sure to finish all of your medicine, even if you feel better before you finish it all. Ask the doctor or nurse about testing and treatment for your partner, too. You and your partner should avoid having sex until you've both been treated. Otherwise, you may continue to pass the STD back and forth. It is possible to get an STD again (after you've been treated), if you have sex with someone who has an STD.

    What happens if I don't treat an STD?

    Some curable STDs can be dangerous if they aren't treated. For example, if left untreated, chlamydia and gonorrhea can make it difficult - or even impossible - for a woman to get pregnant. You also increase your chances of getting HIV if you have an untreated STD. Some STDs, like HIV, can be fatal if left untreated.

    What if my partner or I have an incurable STD?

    Some STDs - like herpes and HIV- aren't curable, but a doctor can prescribe medicine to treat the symptoms.

    If you are living with an STD, it's important to tell your partner before you have sex. Although it may be uncomfortable to talk about your STD, open and honest conversation can help your partner make informed decisions to protect his or her health.

    If I have questions, who can answer them?

    If you have questions, talk to a parent or other trusted adult. Don't be afraid to be open and honest with them about your concerns. If you're ever confused or need advice, they're the first place to start. Remember, they were young once, too.

    Talking about sex with a parent or another adult doesn't need to be a one-time conversation. It's best to leave the door open for conversations in the future.

    It's also important to talk honestly with a doctor or nurse. Ask which STD tests and vaccines they recommend for you.