TLYNTK (The least you need to know…)
- STDs stand for sexually transmitted diseases also known as sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
- You can only get an STD from having sex with someone who has an STD, not toilet seats etc…
- STDs caused by bacteria may be cured with antibiotics. For example: Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, Syphilis
- STDS caused by viruses may be controlled with medication or other treatment, but may stay in your body for years and may not be cured. For example: Herpes, HPV and HIV
- The best way to prevent catching an STD is abstinence (not having sex)
- If you are having sex, condoms and/or dental dams can reduce your chances of getting an infection
- See your health provider at least once a year for a check-up and ASK for STD testing…just to be sure. Some STDs have NO signs and can only be discovered with a urine or blood test
- In NYC, teens can get CONFIDENTIAL STD services without parental consent or notification. Call 311 for a teen-friendly clinic near you. Or, call 646-245-4000 to make an appointment with Project STAY (Services to Assist Youth). We work closely with BridgeUP and BeWell
STDS (Sexually transmitted diseases) or STIs (Sexually Transmitted Infections) are very common. Over 20 million people in the United States will catch one or more infections each year. Over 50% of infections will be in young people between the ages of 15-24. It is estimated that 1 out of every 4 high school students will “get burned” by an infection before they graduate from high school.
So, what’s the big deal? You just pop a pill and you’re good, right?
Not so fast…Some STDs can be cured by a pill but others cannot or need different treatments. The only way to know for sure if you have an infection, is to get to a healthcare provider and get tested. If you have EVER had sex without protection (like condoms), you might have something inside you right now, and you might not even know it. Some infections may be silent…but could be causing permanent damage to your reproductive system. If you don’t feel anything, you might not have the warning signal to go to a clinic to get a check-up. Since STDs can be silent, it means your partner may not know they have anything either and could have passed it on to you without them even knowing.
And, even if you did have signs or symptoms like pain or “burning” when you urinate, or yellow/green fluid on your underwear, or pain in pelvic area or testicles, or sores, or bumps on your genitals, it doesn’t necessarily mean a pill will cure it.
If you want to see pictures about what the STDs listed below look like, click here. But, be warned! These pictures are not intended to scare you, but to give you a realistic idea about the problems these infections can cause. Also, remember, you can have any of these infections and NOT show any signs or symptoms at all!
Chlamydia is one of the most common STIs and is common in people under age 25, people who have multiple sexual partners, and people who don’t use condoms. The most common symptom of chlamydia is NOTHING at all. There can be pain in the penis or vagina, unusual discharge, a feeling of burning when peeing, bleeding after sex, feeling like you have to pee more than usual, and testicle swelling. The great thing is that it can be treated easily with antibiotics, but if it’s not treated, it can cause infertility after many years.
Gonorrhea is another common STI. Someone might not have any symptoms, but a lot of the symptoms are similar to chlamydia. These include unusual discharge, burning when peeing and for guys- swelling and pain in the testicles (called “orchitis”). Some people may have swelling in their joins or a skin rash. Gonorrhea can also be treated with antibiotics from your doctor, and it’s important to get treated to prevent future problems like not being able to have babies.
This is very serious and may need to be treated with strong medicine in the hospital for several days or longer. PID can cause scar tissue to build up in the fallopian tubes which may lead to an ectopic pregnancy (pregnancy in the tubes); or can make it more difficult for a young woman to get pregnant in the first place (infertility).Like we said above, some STDs like chlamydia and gonorrhea are caused by bacteria may be cured with antibiotics. But, for young women, sometimes infections with chlamydia and gonorrhea can spread into their tubes and cause a serious problem called PID (Pelvic Inflammatory Disease).
For guys, chlamydia or gonorrhea can spread into the testicles, causing pain and swelling (“orchitis”). This can cause guys to become sterile also.
STDS caused by viruses may be controlled with medication or other treatment, but may stay in your body for years and may not be cured. For example: Herpes, HPV and HIV.Syphilis is another bacterial infection. It may cause sores on the genitals. Interestingly, while they may not look pleasant, they don’t hurt, and after a while, the sores will go away. Sometimes, there could be bumps near the anus also. Syphilis can be cured with antibiotics. But, if not found and treated properly, the infection can spread to the brain, kidney, heart and other parts of the body. A pregnant teenager with syphilis can pass the infection onto her newborn baby and that can cause the baby to be born with serious problems.
Herpes is annoying. It may show itself as several painful sores on the genitals or anus. It can come back several times in the year following the first infection (or “outbreak”). There are pills to reduce the pain and discomfort and help heal the sores more quickly. But even after the skin goes back to looking normal, the virus is hiding inside the body, and can step out of the shadows again later and cause more sores. If someone is having several outbreaks in a year, health providers may recommend taking medication daily to try to slow down the reappearance of the virus. Fortunately, over time, outbreaks tend to recur less often, but the virus is still inside, lying “in wait”, and can come out at any time. For this reason, health providers recommend that people with herpes infections use condoms all the time, even if there is no outward sign of an infection.
HPV or Human Papilloma virus is really a family of viruses. Some are really no big deal. They make show up as bumps or warts on the genitals, which can be easily removed with liquid nitrogen or topical medications. Other members of the HPV family are “bullies” and can cause serious problems like cancer of the cervix, penis, anus or throat. In addition to condoms, there is a vaccine that can be given to prevent the more serious types of HPV from causing a health problem. Ask your health provider about the HPV vaccination, and get them as soon as you can!
HIV is the virus that scares everyone. However, there is good news. There are really good medications available now that can control the virus and allow teenagers to graduate from high school, college and go on to lead normal, healthy lives. They can even have kids later on in life without having to worry that their babies will become infected. But, teens living with HIV have to take medicine every single day for the rest of their lives. Without the medicine, the virus will grow out of control and cause the body to weaken and become unable to fight off over infections. If you know anyone that is dealing with HIV and is not in care, give Project STAY a call at 646-245-4000 so we can help them find the assistance they need to stay healthy.
The other piece of good news about HIV, is that, in addition to condoms, there is medication available to prevent HIV infection. These medications are used for PreP (Pre-exposure prophylaxis, or prevention BEFORE getting exposed to the HIV virus); or PEP (Post-exposure prophylaxis). Taken correctly, these medications provide an EXCELLENT chance of reducing your chances of getting HIV. If you or someone you know needs PEP or PrEP, call 917-580-1682
Okay, you got my attention, what do I do now?
BridgeUP scholars are bright and passionate and care a lot about their families and their communities. But before you can help others, you have to make sure everything is correct in your own life. That starts with your health. Make sure you get a health check-up every year. If you don’t have a health provider that you can talk confidentially about sensitive stuff like birth control or STDs, then check out our TLYKTK box above for tips on finding a health care provider you can trust and depend on to have your back. In addition to getting checked, ask your health providers about important shots to PREVENT serious infections like HPV.
Getting checked, but you also have to protect yourself. If you are not having sex, terrific! There are lots of kids just like you who have decided to wait until they are older.
If you have already started to have sex, then be smart about it. That means using condoms and/or dental dams each time, every time for oral, vaginal or anal sex. Some kids worry about the size or texture of condoms. Just like sneakers, there are many different brands out there. Check out this link to find out more about condoms: Your Map to the Condom Aisle. And, if for some reason you may be allergic to latex condoms, there are special condoms made out of polyurethane that will be more comfortable for you.
Here are some websites where you can buy condoms discreetly:
If you think something is wrong “down below”…don’t suffer in silence because you are scared or embarrassed. Things will get worse, the longer you wait. STDs are like time bombs…you have to defuse them before they explode. Check out the TLYNTK box above for tips on how to get help quickly and confidentially.
Papadakis MA, McPhee SJ, Rabow MW. Current Medical Diagnosis & Treatment 2018; 2017