Think you'll never get an STD? Think again. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that there are 19 million new infections every year in the United States, with young people aged 15 to 24 accounting for nearly half of them. Most STDs are easy to treat and cure in the early stages, but many can be asymptomatic for years — which means you might be walking around with one and not even know it.
"Teens and young adults are more socially active and that is a factor," says Brigham and Women's obstetrician/gynecologist Dr. Khady Diouf, who specializes in infectious diseases. "But, biologically, young women are particularly vulnerable to STDs, because the womb is immature and much more susceptible to infections."
But STDs are not just a young person's or a woman's problem. Any sexually active person can contract one, and the risk increases with the number of sexual partners. Prevention via proper condom use and regular STD tests are the ways to stem these diseases.
"For [people] under 25, annual testing should be part of general health care," advises Dr. Diouf, "but for older adults who are sexually active, testing is important, too. Doctors aren't comfortable about asking about sexual health, and it's important to get that information."
Pregnant? What you need to know
Having an STD during pregnancy can cause preterm labor, low birth weight, organ damage and a host of other issues for your baby. Before trying to conceive, a woman should know her STD status and that of her partner.
"Think of it as part of your prepregnancy checklist, along with cutting out alcohol, taking vitamins and exercising," says Dr. Lisa Oldson of Sexualhealth.com. "It should be a part of prenatal care, but even for someone who is already pregnant, testing can help the doctor be prepared and protect the baby at birth."