A new study published in the January 2011 issue of Pediatrics reports that more than 10% of teenagers and young adults who claimed to be abstinent tested positive for a sexually transmitted disease. A sample of 14,000 adolescents and young adults were surveyed about their health and sexual behaviors and were given a urine test to check for three STDs. Five percent of those who tested positive had reported they had not had intercourse in the last year and 6% reported that they had never had intercourse. The study concludes by recommending "all young people receiving clinical services, whether their sexual history indicates they are recently sexually active or not, should be tested for prevalent STDs." This, the authors state, will prevent long term negative outcomes of an untreated STD and help reduce transmission to partners.

It's understandable why some young people are not comfortable disclosing their sexual histories. Many teenagers have received the message that adolescent sexuality is "wrong" and therefore should not be discussed, even with a doctor. A recent study from the December 2010 issue of Pediatrics found that adolescents are fearful that their medical information will be communicated to their parents. Also, they fear being judged by their doctor if they bring up sensitive subjects like sex. This is dangerous! If teenagers are fearful of being judged, they are likely not getting all of the information they need about risk reduction and pregnancy prevention. The January 2011 study reveals that many teenagers are lacking the medical treatment they need. Parents and educators need to consciously think about the explicit and implicit messages young people are receiving about sexuality. In the meantime, routine STD testing could help teenagers in all the ways the authors suggested, and may also help normalize the process of caring for their sexual health.

About the Author

Kathryn Stamoulis Ph.D.

Kathryn Stamoulis, Ph.D., teaches at psychology at Hunter College, and specializes in adolescent and sexual development.

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