Protect yourself from STDs--Part 1 of 3

I talked to two sexual health experts about the high rates of STDs among young people and the importance of getting tested.

Frank Reed
"STDs are more serious than people think so be aware of them", Frank says.

By Frank Reed, 17, Animo Locke HS #3

I talked to Dr. Sarah Guerry and health educator Ana Delia Hernandez, both from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health’s STD Program. What stuck out to me the most was hearing that females have a greater chance of getting STDs and that they have more STDs than males. I always thought that guys had more STDs. I realized it’s important to get accurate information because what you believe is not always right. This is part 1 of a 3 part series.

Dr. Sarah Guerry

Dr. Sarah Guerry shows one of the condoms the county STD program hands out for free.

L.A. Youth: What is an STD?
Dr. Sarah Guerry: It is an infection that is passed from one person to another, via sex. And there are STDs and STIs—sexually transmitted diseases and sexually transmitted infections.

L.A. Youth: How are STDs transmitted?
Ana Delia Hernandez
: It can’t be an STD if it’s not transmitted by sex, so sex has to be involved. But the definition of sex is really broad. Most people think penis and vagina sex but you don’t actually have to have penetrative sex. It can be rubbing, you know, stuff teenagers will often do. They’re not doing the things that can cause pregnancy but they are touching each other’s genitals. So for bacterial STDs it’s through infected fluid such as infected pre-cum or infected semen or vaginal secretions. Chlamydia and gonorrhea are transmitted through infected fluids. If you don’t use a condom, you can get that. And then there are the ones that are transmitted through skin-to-skin contact. Herpes and genital warts, even if you use a condom, sometimes can still be transmitted because of that friction that happens during sexual intercourse.

Guerry: But I do think that it’s also important to talk about the kinds of sex people have. When I work in teen clinics and I would ask ‘Have you had sex?’ and the kid would say ‘No’ and then I would follow-up with, ‘Well, you know, let’s talk about different kinds of sex. And I’d say ‘penis and vagina sex?’ ‘No’. Penis and mouth sex?’ ‘Oh, yes.’ So I think people really try and play down what they might be doing.

Delia Hernandez: Yeah, so oral sex, vaginal sex and anal sex are ways of transmitting STDs.

L.A. Youth: What’s the most common STD among teens?
: HPV—Human Papillomavirus—is by far the most common sexually transmitted infection in teenagers. It’s incredibly common. . [There’s the HPV vaccine, which covers two of the four types of HPV that cause the most kinds of cervical cancer and the most warts.] Chlamydia is the most common bacterial STD [among STDs that are required to be reported]. Chlamydia is a really bad STD because it can cause infertility and chronic pelvic pain. We have a really good treatment for it so I think those things make it a reportable disease.

L.A. Youth: Why are teens more likely to get an STD?
Guerry: There are a bunch reasons why teens are more likely to have sexually transmitted diseases. Number one is biology. There’s something anatomically different—primarily about young women because their cervix is more vulnerable to sexually transmitted diseases. Number two, teens are much more likely to have shorter relationships. As people get older, they’ll tend to have one partner for a year. Teens, even if they’re going steady, it’s for a month. Teens are also much more likely not to wear condoms. They’re much less likely to be going to their doctor and talking about STDs.

L.A. Youth: How can they prevent getting an STD?
Delia Hernandez: First of all, being able to talk about it. A lot of times, people are embarrassed to talk about STDs. And really if you’re not able to talk to your partner about it, then maybe you’re not ready. But ways of preventing STDs are by use of condoms. There is the male condom and now there is the female condom. And then informing yourself. We always tell people, be careful what you read on the Internet. You want to stay on reputable websites. So anything that comes from the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], anything that comes from the health department.  *Also make sure to check out content and read about The Hookup!

Guerry: Abstinence is best and then one partner and ideally choosing that sex partner well.  Keep your number of sex partners as low as possible. A teen girl can only have one sex partner and she’s at super high risk for having an STD. You’ve seen the ads—it’s not who you’re having sex with, it’s who that person has had sex with. So having a talk about sex: ‘Who have you had sex with before? Have you been using condoms?’ Tested and knowing status.

Check back on September 30, 2011 for part 2 of this series.