Stop the presses! One in four teenage girls has an STD! Start panicking now!
If you've been watching the news or reading the newspaper for the past two days, that's probably what you've heard. If you're a teenage girl, you've probably checked yourself in the bathroom at least once to make sure there's nothing new going on down there. What's causing all the chaos?
A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that one in four teenage girls has a sexually transmitted disease. The most common infection the study found was the human papillomavirus or HPV. A whopping 18 percent of teen girls apparently have the virus. Compare that to the 40 percent of the girls ages 14-19 in the study who were sexually active, and that means almost half of all young women who are having sex have contracted the disease.
Coming in at a very distant second in the study was chlamydia. The bacterial infection showed up in 4 percent of the women tested.
"Women are often without symptoms for chlamydia," said Fred Wyand of the American Social Health Association. "It's not like you assume, with itching and burning. People don't always know they have it. The CDC recommends all sexually active women 25 and under get screened for chlamydia."
With all the headlines this story has received in recent days, you would think Britney Spears had left the house without her underwear again. News coverage on the study depicted a world where infected girls, with a variety of unsavory conditions, are running rampant in schools and on the streets. There are probably a lot of teenagers reconsidering that chastity belt mom and dad wanted to invest in.
Perhaps one of the most surprising findings of the study was how quickly young women contracted STDs after becoming sexually active. According to the study almost one in five young women will contract an STD within one year of losing their virginity.
These findings are alarming and important, but they're not really all that surprising. At least 50 percent of all sexually active people will have some form of HPV in their lifetime. Some experts actually believe that number is much higher.
"There should not be a freak-out factor over this," Wyand said. "But it should be sobering and remind us that we have to utilize the prevention tools that we do have."
It is always important to use protection when engaging in sexual intercourse, but condoms aren't a guarantee against HPV. You can get HPV from skin-to-skin genital contact with someone who has it. There are hundreds of types of the virus. Some forms can cause more serious diseases, like genital warts. For women, a few strains of HPV can even develop into cervical cancer. The good news is, there is now a vaccine for some of those strains. One shot and you could be protected for life.
"So many of the women in the study had HPV, and for most of those women, it will clear up," Wyand explained. "For a lot of them, it won't be problematic."
To all the men out there, don't think you're getting off too easily. Men can, and do, get HPV. They just don't usually have any symptoms, leading many to unknowingly pass the virus on to their partners.
The best defense against contracting and spreading any sexually transmitted disease is to get tested regularly and always use condoms. The CDC also urges women to get fully vaccinated against HPV in order to prevent cervical cancer.
"This shows we really have to educate more people on the preventative tools we do have, such as testing and the [HPV] vaccine," Wyand reiterated. "We need to reach out to young women, their parents and health care providers."
For more information on how you can protect yourself, head to itsyoursexlife.com.