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What teens need to know about preventing STIs

If you’re thinking about having sex, it’s crucial to take steps to prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and pregnancy

What causes STIs?

STIs are infections that are spread through sexual contact. They are also called sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Some STIs—like HPV and herpes—can be spread from skin-to-skin contact, so you can get them without “going all the way.”

Anyone can get an STI, regardless of sexual orientation, age, sex or race. STIs are particularly common in people ages 15 to 24. About half of new STI cases each year are in young people. And you can’t always tell if someone has an STI just by looking at them.

Are STIs curable?

While some sexually transmitted infections are curable, others aren’t. STIs can be caused by viruses, bacteria or parasites.

STIs caused by bacteria or parasites can be cured with antibiotics. But left untreated, they can cause irreversible damage to the body. Curable STIs include:

  • Chlamydia
  • Gonorrhea (also known as “the clap”)
  • Syphilis
  • Pubic lice (also known as “crabs”)
  • Trichomoniasis (also known as “trich” or “trick”)

STIs caused by viruses aren’t curable, but they can be managed through medication and treatment by a doctor. Incurable STIs include:

  • Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV)
  • Herpes
  • Hepatitis B

Symptoms of STIs

Some STIs cause symptoms, while others don’t right away, but can lead to long-term health problems. Symptoms can include:

  • Bumps, rashes or sores in your genital area (on or near the penis or vagina)
  • Unusual discharge from the penis or vagina
  • Having to pee frequently or feeling burning when you pee
  • Pain in your pelvis, back or abdomen

Untreated STIs can cause permanent damage to the body, such as:

  • Infertility (not being able to get pregnant or get your partner pregnant)
  • Ectopic pregnancy (when a fertilized egg grows outside the uterus)
  • Cancer of the anus, cervix, penis or throat
  • Blindness
  • Liver damage
  • Brain damage
  • Paralysis
  • Death

Having an STI can also increase your risk of getting HIV.

How to prevent sexually transmitted infections

The only 100% guaranteed way to not get an STI is to not have oral, anal or vaginal sex. If you decide to be sexually active, use protection to reduce your risk, such as:

  • Internal or external condoms: A thin barrier worn over the penis or inside the anus or vagina during sex.
  • Dental dams: A thin piece of latex placed over the anus or genitals before oral sex.
  • PrEP: Pre-exposure prophylaxis, a medication prescribed to people at risk of contracting HIV.

You can get protection at most grocery and convenience stores and at many community health clinics.

Talk to an adult about sex and STIs

If you’re thinking about having sex or are currently sexually active, it can be helpful to talk to a trusted adult. While it can be intimidating to discuss sex and STI prevention, doing so can help you learn more about protecting yourself and your partner from unwanted pregnancy and STIs. A trusted adult can include a:

  • Parent
  • Grandparent
  • Aunt or uncle
  • Older cousin
  • Older sibling
  • Teacher
  • Coach
  • School nurse
  • School counselor
  • Parent of a friend
  • Doctor or another healthcare provider

If you decide to have sex, keep yourself and your partner safe by using protection.

Need more info? Connect with an Expert.


Centerstone Sexual Healthcare

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): Get Tested

CDC: Sexually Transmitted Diseases

Sex, Etc.

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