Every year there are more than 15 million new cases of STDs in the United States, including approximately 10 million new cases among people aged 15-24. Put another way: by age 24, at least one in three sexually active people will have contracted an STD. Many of those who are infected don't know it. All STDs are either treatable or curable. But if you don't deal with an STD, it can have lasting effects on your health. For example, some STDs can cause recurrent symptoms, such as painful or itchy sores, and a select few can cause infertility (meaning you can never have children), increased risk of cancer, and even death for both women and men. The most deadly of all STDs is HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Half of new HIV infections occur in people under 25. And get this: having one STD increases your chances of contracting another STD, including HIV.
You can't tell if someone has an STD by the way he or she looks or acts. The only way to know whether you have an STD, including HIV, is to get tested. Appearances can be deceiving. After all, you're not just having sex with that person but with everyone they've ever had sex with . . . and everyone THEY'VE ever had sex with . . . and . . . well, you get the point. Because lots of STDs have no symptoms (or only subtle ones), your partner may not even know he or she has one.
It's very important to know your own body. You should be aware of any skin changes (like sores) on the genitals, as well as any unusual discharge or discomfort when urinating; these could be signs of an STD. Being aware of how your body works when it's healthy will help you recognize any symptoms that may signal an unintended pregnancy or an STD. However, many STDs show no symptoms, so it is important to understand that the only way to know whether you have an STD, including HIV, is to be tested. Talk with your healthcare provider about which STDs you should consider getting tested for.
To be blunt about it
The only way to be sure you're having safer sex is to keep your partner's blood, semen, or vaginal fluids out of your body. Abstinence is the safest method. However, if you're going to have sex, always use protection: condoms for vaginal or anal sex and condoms or dental dams (square pieces of latex available in some drugstores) for oral sex.