When it comes to sexually transmitted infections, experts at Baylor College of Medicine tout the ABCs – Abstinence, Be faithful, and Condoms. But another letter is also important – ‘S’, as in silent.
Many sexually transmitted infections are silent diseases, meaning they have no symptoms, said Dr Peggy Smith, director of the Baylor College of Medicine Teen Health Clinic. That’s why it is so important for everyone who is sexually active to be screened regularly for sexually transmitted infections.
"As soon as a person becomes sexually active, he or she should start including regular screenings for sexually transmitted infections as part of a good health care routine," said Smith, who is also professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at BCM. "These screenings can be done quickly and easily and should be performed at least annually or any time there has been potential exposure to such an infection."
Screenings can be done for both bacterial and viral sexually transmitted infections. Bacterial infections include gonorrhoea and chlamydia, which is the most common sexually transmitted infection in girls ages 15 to 24. It usually has no apparent symptoms.
"The good news about bacterial infections is that they are highly curable, but if ignored, they can have devastating consequences, including infertility in women," said Smith.
Common viral infections include the human papillomavirus (HPV), herpes and HIV. Smith noted that cases of HIV diagnosed at the Baylor Teen Health Clinic increased from 2007 to 2008.
The best advice for young people is to delay their sexual debut, Smith said.
"We urge them to be abstinent until they can make good decisions," she said. "But if they are not, it is imperative to use a condom every time. Condoms provide significant protection against both bacterial and viral infections."
The number of teens who report using condoms is increasing, but Smith noted that many people stop using them if they have a consistent partner.
"This is a mistake, because when you have sex with someone, it’s like you have sex with whomever your partner has had sex with. You’re putting yourself at a lot of risk."
(Source: Baylor College of Medicine: June 2009)