STD among adolescents: prevention strategies

Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are infections that can be passed from one person to another through sexual contact. STDs can have serious health consequences, especially for adolescents, who are at higher risk of acquiring and transmitting STDs than older adults. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), youth ages 15-24 account for almost half of the 26 million new sexually transmitted infections that occurred in the United States in 2018 (CDC, 2021a). Therefore, it is important to understand the factors that contribute to the high prevalence of STDs among adolescents and the strategies that can be used to prevent them.

Factors contributing to the high prevalence of STDs among adolescents

Several biological, behavioral, social and structural factors contribute to the high prevalence of STDs among adolescents. Some of these factors are:

– Biological factors: Adolescents are more susceptible to STDs because their reproductive organs are still developing and their cervical cells are more vulnerable to infection. In addition, some STDs, such as chlamydia and gonorrhea, often have no symptoms or mild symptoms that can go unnoticed or untreated, increasing the risk of complications and transmission (CDC, 2021b).
– Behavioral factors: Adolescents may engage in risky sexual behaviors that increase their exposure to STDs, such as having multiple sex partners, having sequential or concurrent partnerships, failing to use barrier protection consistently and correctly, and mixing alcohol and/or recreational drugs with sex. These behaviors may be influenced by peer pressure, lack of knowledge, low self-esteem, or poor communication skills (CDC, 2021b).
– Social factors: Adolescents may face social barriers that limit their access to accurate information, education, and services related to sexual health. For example, some adolescents may not receive comprehensive sex education at school or at home, or may receive conflicting messages from different sources. Some adolescents may also face stigma, discrimination, or violence based on their sexual orientation, gender identity, race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status, which can affect their self-worth and decision-making (CDC, 2021b).
– Structural factors: Adolescents may encounter structural barriers that hinder their ability to obtain quality health care and prevention services for STDs. For example, some adolescents may not have health insurance or transportation to access health care facilities. Some adolescents may also face challenges in obtaining confidential care due to parental consent laws, explanation of benefits statements, or electronic health records that may disclose their receipt of STD services. Some health care providers may also lack the training or resources to provide adolescent-friendly care or to screen and treat STDs appropriately (CDC, 2021b).

Prevention strategies for STDs among adolescents

To reduce the burden of STDs among adolescents, a combination of individual-level, interpersonal-level, community-level, and policy-level interventions is needed. Some of these interventions are:

– Individual-level interventions: These interventions aim to increase the knowledge, skills, and motivation of adolescents to prevent STDs. For example, providing comprehensive sex education that covers topics such as anatomy, physiology, reproduction, contraception, STDs, consent, communication, and relationships can help adolescents make informed choices about their sexual health. Providing counseling and testing for STDs can also help adolescents know their status and seek treatment if needed. Providing condoms and other barrier methods can also help adolescents reduce their risk of exposure to STDs (CDC, 2021b).
– Interpersonal-level interventions: These interventions aim to improve the communication and negotiation skills of adolescents and their partners to prevent STDs. For example, encouraging adolescents to talk to their partners about their sexual history, preferences, expectations, and boundaries can help them establish trust and mutual respect. Encouraging adolescents to use condoms or other barrier methods consistently and correctly with their partners can also help them protect themselves and their partners from STDs. Providing partner notification and referral services can also help adolescents inform their partners if they have an STD and encourage them to get tested and treated (CDC,
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2021b).
– Community-level interventions: These interventions aim to create a supportive environment for adolescents to prevent STDs. For example, engaging parents, teachers, peers, health care providers, and other influential adults in providing accurate information and positive role models for adolescents can help them develop healthy attitudes and behaviors towards sexual health. Providing youth-friendly health care facilities that offer confidential, affordable, accessible, and quality services for STD prevention can also help adolescents obtain the care they need without fear or embarrassment. Providing outreach and education programs in schools, community centers, faith-based organizations, or other settings where adolescents congregate can also help them access information and resources for STD prevention (CDC, 2021b).
– Policy-level interventions: These interventions aim to address the structural barriers and social determinants that affect the prevention of STDs among adolescents. For example, advocating for comprehensive sex education policies that are evidence-based, age-appropriate, and inclusive of all adolescents can help them receive consistent and reliable information about sexual health. Advocating for health insurance coverage and Medicaid expansion that include STD prevention services can also help adolescents afford and access the care they need. Advocating for confidentiality protection laws and policies that allow adolescents to consent for their own STD services and limit the disclosure of their receipt of STD services can also help them obtain care without compromising their privacy or safety (CDC, 2021b).

Conclusion

STDs are a major public health problem that disproportionately affect adolescents. To prevent STDs among adolescents, a multifaceted approach that addresses the biological, behavioral, social, and structural factors that contribute to the high prevalence of STDs among this population is needed. By implementing individual-level, interpersonal-level, community-level, and policy-level interventions, the health and well-being of adolescents can be improved and the transmission of STDs can be reduced.

References

CDC. (2021a). Adolescents and young adults. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/std/life-stages-populations/adolescents-youngadults.htm

CDC. (2021b). Adolescents. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/std/treatment-guidelines/adolescents.htm

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