Your first visit to the OBGYN can be a bit overwhelming, especially if you have certain concerns about sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). We were all teenagers once, and your Women’s Health Arizona providers are sensitive that the fact that these discussions might not be the most comfortable. However, being able to talk about STDs with your provider is extremely important. Whether you are or are not sexually active, it is best to know the signs of certain STDs and how to avoid them.
In the United States, prevalence rates of certain STIs are highest among young adults. The CDC estimates that youth ages 15-24 account for almost half of the new sexually transmitted infections that occurred in the United States in 2018.
All 50 states and the District of Columbia allow minors to consent for their own STI services. In Arizona, minors can access sexual and reproductive health services (such as STD testing and treatment, birth control, and pregnancy testing) at any age with a parent’s permission and at age 13 without parental consent.
Sexually Transmitted Diseases
STDs spread from person to person through intimate contact, can affect anyone, and need to be dealt with immediately. Many teenagers cringe just at the word ‘STD,’ but while it might not be fun to talk about and more fun to gawk about, the reality is that STDs are a serious health threat. Throughout the years in conversations with our younger patients, we’ve put together a list of some important aspects to keep in mind.
STDs include just some of the following:
One of the most common STDs, Chlamydia is hard to detect without testing. Chlamydia is most common in young women and symptoms may include genital pain and discharge from the vagina. It can cause permanent damage to a woman’s reproductive system. Routine screening on an annual basis is recommended for all sexually active females aged under the age of 25.
Symptoms of Gonorrhea include pain or burning during urination in both men and women, and abnormal discharge. Gonorrhea can cause infection in the genitals, rectum, and throat. It is very common, especially among young people ages 15-24 years. This STD can be dangerous if left untreated, so talk to your provider for more information. Routine screening on an annual basis is recommended for all sexually active females under the age of 25.
The CDC recommends that individuals as young as 13 get tested for HIV at least once as part of routine health care. Young people with risk factors should get tested at least annually.
Human papillomavirus (HPV) and Cervical Cancer
HPV is the most common STI. A person with HPV can pass the infection to someone even when they have no signs or symptoms. In 9 out of 10 cases, HPV goes away on its own within two years without health problems. But when HPV does not go away, it can cause health problems like genital warts and cancer. Cervical cancer screening includes a Pap test (also known as a Pap smear), testing for human papillomavirus (HPV), or both. Guidelines from ACOG recommend that cervical cancer screening begin at age 21, regardless of when you first start having sex. Women who are 21 to 29 should have a Pap test alone every 3 years. HPV testing alone can be considered for women who are 25 to 29, but Pap tests are preferred.
Called “trich” for short, it’s an STD that’s cured with antibiotics. It causes a foul-smelling vaginal discharge, genital itching, and painful urination in women. Men typically have no symptoms. Because trichomoniasis is not a reportable disease, no recommendations are available for general screening. If you have symptoms, contact your provider immediately.
Herpes sores usually appear as one or more blisters on or around the genitals or rectum. This is known as having an “outbreak”. The blisters may take a week or more to heal. Flu-like symptoms also may occur during the first outbreak. Most people with genital herpes have no symptoms or have very mild symptoms.
Even if you’re not sexually active, you can still obtain a sexually transmitted disease. This seems to be a major sticking point for many young patients. Skin-to-skin contact with someone who has herpes or genital warts can transfer the disease. And while sexual activity might never take place, though it is rare, some STDs can be transferred.
Signs of an STD
Many of our younger patients believe that the signs of an STD are obvious. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. You cannot always tell whether someone has an STD. Many times the person with the STD doesn’t even realize they are infected.
The only way to be sure that you, or anyone else, does not have an STD is to get tested.
Birth control cannot protect you from STDs.
When you come in to talk to your Women’s Health Arizona provider about sexually transmitted diseases, do not be ashamed or embarrassed. It’s important that you are comfortable talking about these issues with your provider, so that if a situation does arise you can handle it together.
If you would like to meet with a knowledgeable doctor, consider contacting Women’s Health Arizona. As Arizona’s largest ObGyn group, we’re trained and solely dedicated to delivering the best ObGyn experience in convenient and comfortable settings around Phoenix.