The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has just released an alarming study which shows that one in four teenage girls between the ages of 14 and 19 have a sexually transmitted infection. The disturbing news continues, though: among those who admitted to having sex, the rate of infection was a staggering 40%. Worse yet, the study only tested for four common STDs, which means that total rates are most likely higher. Among the infected patients, 15% had more than one of the diseases.
The four STDs that patients were tested for are HPV, chlamydia, trichomoniasis and genital herpes. HPV had the highest rate of infection, with 18% of participants testing positive. While HPV often shows no symptoms, is can cause genital warts and cervical cancer. Chlamydia, which 4% of patients had, also generally has no symptoms but can lead to infertility. Two and a half percent of patients had trichomonisasis and 2% had genital herpes.
As Planned Parenthood CEO Cecile Richards says, this is yet more evidence that abstinence-only education programs don't work and endanger youth. It also provides more reason for girls to get the HPV vaccine -- though many worry (without any proven reason) that giving the vaccine would encourage promiscuity, this study reinforces that we're dealing with an issue of health.
The results point to another problem: the likelihood of having an STD increases dramatically for black teens. A startling 50% of black teen girls were found to have an STD, compared with 20% for teens identified as white and Mexican-American. This shows yet again that there are enormous racial disparities in access to health care services and comprehensive sex education. Clearly, black communities are not receiving the resources they need to prevent sexual health related problems and to treat them once they occur.
These rates of infection are clearly not acceptable -- but the release of this study is enormously important to educate the public about the need to do better for teenagers. Abstinence is a great idea. But simply, it's one that a lot of teens just don't choose. Isn't it more important for teens to know the importance of using condoms and getting tested than it is to keep the rest of us from feeling uncomfortable? So far, we've spent $1.5 billion on abstinence-only programs -- how many STDs could have been prevented if that money had been used for sex education that actually works?