“My girlfriend and I are in love, and we’re going to have sex. What’s the best protection — a condom, or the pill?” This was the question a 15-year-old boy asked his sex ed teacher.
The teacher explained that the pill is the best protection against getting pregnant. But it doesn’t always work in young girls, because their cycles are not yet regular. And the pill gives no protection against STIs. Condoms reduce — but do not eliminate — the risk of contracting some STIs, particularly HIV. But some STIs are spread by skin to skin contact on parts of the body not covered by a condom.
Then the teacher asked, “But if you love her, why would you want to expose her to these risks?”
How possible is it that this young girl could have an STI? How frequent is infection in teens? In the USA, according to the Centers for Disease Control, there are twenty million new infections every year — half of them in young people between the ages of 15 and 24. One in four sexually active adolescent females in this age group has an STI.
The Medical Institute for Sexual Health lists 27 different STIs. Chlamydia is one. Chlamydia is the most common notifiable condition in the USA. In 2016 there were 1.59 million new cases reported. That many people would fill the Yankee Stadium in New York 29 times! Most of the victims are young women between 15 and 24 years of age. It is estimated that 1 in 20 sexually active women aged 14-24 have chlamydia.
Is that a problem? Consider just two of the possible consequences of a chlamydia infection:
- pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)which causes infertility and chronic pelvic pain
- an increased chance of getting HIV if exposed to the virus
Doctors say that one of the saddest moments in their practice is when they have to tell a young woman that she will never be able to have children because of a chlamydia infection in her teens. An infection she never knew she had, because in most cases there are no symptoms.
Some other STIs:
- HPV (Human Papilloma Virus), a major cause of cancer
- Genital herpes, which is incurable
And, as Dr. Sulak points out, STIs are not the only risk. In addition to the risk of unintended pregnancy, there are also the mental, emotional, relational, and economic consequences that can destroy a young person’s hopes and dreams for the future.
Why would anyone want to expose themselves, or anyone else, to such risks? And shouldn’t we warn young people of these risks instead of encouraging them to have sex?
There is another way.