Talking to your teens about STDs


Adolescents have sex, whether parents want to face it or not. Teens need to know that one serious consequence of having sex is acquiring sexually transmitted diseases. To make matters worse, some STDs aren’t easily treatable anymore.

Condoms help prevent STDs, but they are often not used (especially for oral sex) and therefore, these diseases can be easily spread. Fifty years ago, plain penicillin and sulfa would treat syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia, but mutating germs and the overuse of antibiotics have increasing diminished the effectiveness of these drugs.

The CDC recently announced the increasing presence of multidrug resistant gonorrhea in the United States. There are over 300,000 cases per year in the US. Some of the highest reported rates of infection are among sexually active teenagers in the US. Up to 12 percent of sexually active high school males have gonorrhea or chlamydia, and about 16 percent of sexually active females have either STD.

Philadelphia teens have some of the highest STD rates in the US. One out of 3 kids in Philadelphia will get an STD during their teen years. Last winter, twenty-two public high schools in the city with the highest rate of students infected with STDs got condom dispensers as part of a pilot program paid for by the Philadelphia Health Department.

Since gonorrhea is initially without symptoms, a sexually active person needs to get their urine routinely tested for it. If untreated, multidrug resistant gonorrhea can lead to infections of the urethra, cervix, rectum and throat. In the long-term, it can cause pelvic inflammatory disease, ectopic pregnancy and infertility, and facilitate the spread of HIV. Blindness can occur in babies born to women with active multidrug resistant gonorrhea who refuse the routine eye treatment given to newborns.

So far, the infection has developed resistance to sulfa in the 1940’s, penicillins in the 1970’s, tetracycline in the 1980’s and now are no longer routinely treated by fluoroquinolones (such as Cipro). Currently, the last effective group of drugs, cephalosporins, are requiring higher and higher doses to treat it. Almost no new antibiotics are being introduced at this time to replace what does not work.

What can we do? Talk to your preteens and teens about STDs. Encourage everyone to wear condoms during sex, including oral sex, and admit to oneself as a parent that your kids may be having sex and encourage them to wear condoms if they do have sex. We appear to be running out of easy treatments.