The CDC just released its annual report on sexually transmitted diseases and the results for teens are pretty disturbing. Although 15- to 24-year-olds represent only 25% of the sexually experienced population, they acquire nearly half of all new STDs.
The report notes that sexually active teens are at a higher risk of contracting an STD because of a combination of behavioral, biological and cultural reasons. Barriers to accessing quality STD prevention services– like lack of insurance and transportation, or concerns about confidentiality, may also play a big role, the study concludes.
It’s well known that alcohol and drug use can contribute to adolescents making dangerous choices when it comes to sexual activity. But even so, pediatricians don’t routinely screen patients for substance use and at-risk sexual behavior. To help pediatricians identify kids with substance abuse problems, Children’s researchers developed CRAFFT, a diagnostic test that screens teens for high risk drug and alcohol use in a matter of minutes. Now, researchers have found that CRAFFT can also identify teens that are more likely to engage in high risk sexual behaviors. Researchers hope that the screening tool can be incorporated into all routine teen medical visits. “Primary care physicians are on the frontline of identifying adolescents who are at-risk and all should be screened with questions like these,” says Sharon Levy, MD, MPHM, co-author of the study and physician in the Adolescent Substance Abuse Program at Children’s. “Something as simple as asking an adolescent a few questions during a clinical appointment might make the difference.”
While clinicians can be very effective in educating teens about safe sexual behavior, it’s also important for parents to repeat the same message–even if it feels awkward to discuss sex with your child. If you need a few pointers, read this article on how to give “the talk.”