By twelfth grade, 65% of high school students will have engaged in sexual intercourse, and one in five sexually active teens will have had four or more sexual partners. These numbers continue to rise after high school. Teenagers and young adults are a vulnerable population because they make decisions and act in ways that put them at greater risk for STIs.
Young people are more likely than any other age group to:
- Have multiple sex partners
- Engage in unprotected sex
- Use drugs and alcohol at high rates
- Engage in high risk behaviors while under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol
Estimating how many sexually transmitted infection (STI) cases occur among young people is not a simple or straightforward task. First, most STIs can be “silent,” causing no noticeable symptoms. These asymptomatic infections can be diagnosed only through testing. Unfortunately, routine screening programs are not widespread, and social stigma and lack of public awareness concerning STIs often inhibits frank discussion between healthcare providers and patients about STIs. Even from estimates, however, it is clear that young people bear a large portion of the STI burden.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
- Half of all STIs occur in young people aged 15–24 (even though they make up only 27% of the sexually active population).
- One in four new STI cases occur in teenagers.
- Young people aged 15-24 account for 70% of all gonorrhea infections and 63% of chlamydia infections.
- Young people aged 13-24 account for approximately one in every four new HIV infections in the United States.
ASHA’s publication, Teens and STIs: Real Questions, Honest Answers gives teens solid information on how you can get an STI, what to do if you think you have one, what treatment options are available, and how to prevent STIs.
Learn more about how STIs affect young people—download CDC’s infographic by clicking the image below.