There must be something about the warm weather and sunshine of the summer that causes some young – and old – minds to become reckless. I say this in awe, as I seem to have been treating many more sexually transmitted diseases within the past couple of months than I have all year. And, unfortunately, those that I have been treating are young teenage…rs and 20-somethings.
This inspired and prompted me to do a review of the most common STDs and myths. I hope that if you’re a parent with a child in this age group that you remind them of a couple of things.
The first issue is a scary one for me as a doctor. I hear, “But I feel fine and don’t have any problems,” as a frequent answer to whether a person wants to be tested for STDs. Let me say that this is an uninformed statement to make, especially for my men out there. STDs often are transmitted and can linger around and inside the body for years before they’re detected with testing.
Even though you personally don’t have symptoms doesn’t mean that you can’t pass it to the next person. Don’t ever let the fact that you don’t “feel bad” be your rationale for declining testing.
Statistically, all women between ages 15-25 should have testing for gonorrhea and chlamydia every time they have their annual pap smears and physical exams, regardless of whether or not they have any symptoms. Both are bacterial infections of the sexual organs.
Typically, women will complain of a different kind of discharge (mucus) than they would normally have. Sometimes, this mucus is of a different color or character (yellow or green, thick) and may cause irritation, itching or burning with urination or with intercourse. Both men and women can experience these symptoms, but what I’ve noticed is that men may not suffer ANY of these classic symptoms and still have the infection.
But guess what? These misconceptions don’t only occur in the young population. I had one older male patient, who doesn’t use condoms with his two female partners, recently tell me that because he urinated and wiped himself clean after intercourse that he was fine. Oh no!
He’s putting both himself and his two partners at risk for all sorts of infections. Gonorrhea, chlamydia, trichomonas, HPV and herpes are transmitted the very same way that HIV/AIDs, syphilis and hepatitis are. If you’ve never heard of trichomonas, or trich, it is also an STD. It is characterized as a frothy, greenish discharge that causes irritation in the abdominal and pelvic area that needs antibiotic treatment.
Are all STDs fatal? No, but women in particular can have damage of their female organs to the point that they have to have surgery or can’t have children, which can be devastating. Sometimes these diseases, like herpes, can cause meningitis. Syphilis, which still exists, can cause neurological damage.
What’s the way to never come into contact with these infections? Never have sex. But because this isn’t realistic in the real world, don’t have sex until you’re ready and, for goodness sakes, use a condom. Plain and simple.
Ladies, protect yourselves because not everyone is looking out for you and your safety. Men, be smart and protect yourselves as well. If you have any questions, go to the doctor to be tested, and please have regular HIV testing. Don’t be afraid to talk about those things that can potentially save your life.
C. Nicole Price Swiner, MD, works for the Durham Family Practice in Durham. Contact