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Teens and STDs: Get the Facts

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WebMD Feature

How much do you know about sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)? It turns out that most teens don't know much about STDs until they get one. And a lot of them are getting STDs. Half of all sexually active teens will catch chlamydia, herpes, or another STD by the time they turn 25.

WebMD talked to Gail Bolan, MD, director of the CDC's Division of STD Prevention, to find out more about STDs. She also has some important advice to help teens protect themselves every time they have sex.

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How do I get an STD?

The way that you can get an STD is by having unprotected sex, and that means having vaginal sex, anal sex, or oral sex and not using a condom consistently and correctly.

Is there any way to tell if my partner has an STD?

A lot of people think that they can check out their partner or look at their partner and tell whether or not their partner has an STD. Unfortunately, that is not correct. Most of these STDs are what we call completely asymptomatic [they have no symptoms]. The only way you can tell that you have an STD is by going to see your health care provider and making sure your provider tests you.

How can I know for sure that I don't have an STD?

We recommend that you see a health care provider to be tested. The CDC has a special web site, findstdtest.org, where teens can go to find a nearby STD testing center. You can also text your ZIP code to 498669 (GYTNOW), and it will give you a list of clinics in your area where you can access STD testing.

Will the clinic have to tell my parents if I get tested?

Confidentiality is one of teens' biggest concerns about accessing care. But teens need to know that most states have laws that allow teenagers to get reproductive health services, and that includes contraception and STD testing, without parental consent. So I do encourage teens to call their local STD program, wherever they live, and find out what their state laws are for minors' consent for reproductive health care, diagnosis, and treatment.

For which STDs should I get tested?

We recommend that all sexually active teenage girls get a chlamydia test every year. We also recommend gonorrhea testing for teenage girls. Because we recognize that there's also a lot of HIV infection, although it's not as common in teenagers, we recommend that sexually active teenagers get at least one HIV test. Then, depending on their risk, their provider can decide whether or not they should get tested more often after that first test.

Syphilis is not as common in teenagers, so testing is not routinely recommended. But we do recommend if a teen ends up positive for chlamydia infection that they get tested for the other common STDs, which means gonorrhea, syphilis, and HIV. We don't recommend routine human papillomavirus (HPV) testing.

And of course, if your partner tests positive for an STD, you need to get yourself tested, as well.

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