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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

What Teens Want to Know

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Since it may be difficult for adults to have an honest conversation about sex with their teenage sons or daughters, many teen peer educators are filling the void. Two of these knowledgeable teens—Renesha Carter and Joline Reyes—have been reaching out to their peers to talk about preventing sexually transmitted infections (STIs), teen pregnancy and healthy relationships, in an effort organized by Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin. Carter and Reyes said these are the most common questions they get from other teens about STIs, along with their expert responses:

Can anybody get a sexually transmitted infection?” Yes, Reyes said. “They do not discriminate.”

“What’s syphilis?” Carter said many teens are concerned about syphilis, not only because of its health implications, but because students in her school recently learned about the Tuskegee Syphilis Study’s impact on the African-American community. Carter said syphilis starts with a bump or sore that goes away, but noted that the infection remains. Syphilis can be treated early, but left untreated it has very serious health consequences.

“What are signs of chlamydia and gonorrhea?” Reyes said that while an unusual discharge or itching and burning are typical signs of these infections, about 70% of women with chlamydia and 50% of infected men have no symptoms. She suggested teens who have had unprotected sex see a doctor to get tested. Ignoring it can lead to further health problems and even infertility.

“How can I be sure that I won’t get an STI?” Abstinence is best, Reyes said. But Carter added that teens should always use a condom if they are sexually active.

“How often should I get tested?” Before you have sex with a new partner, Reyes said, or after having unprotected sex. If you’re in a relationship, get tested every six months.

“How can I get my partner to use a condom?” Insist on it, Carter advised. “Say you won’t have sex unless you use a condom,” she said. “Or tell him some of the negative consequences of having unprotected sex.” Reyes said, “Say, ‘If you really care for me and respect me, you’ll use a condom.’”

“Should I tell my partner that I have an infection?” Absolutely, Carter said. “Be upfront and honest about it.”

“I’ve heard some really weird things about sexually transmitted infections. Are they true?” Probably not, Carter said, especially if the information is from an unreliable source, such as another teenager. “If it’s out of the ordinary, it’s probably not true,” she said.

“Where can I get reliable information?” Both teens suggested the Planned Parenthood-sponsored www.teenwire.com or 800-230-PLAN to find the nearest Planned Parenthood health center, or calling a local clinic or health center with your questions.

But a visit to the doctor is always a good thing, too.