Sex. It’s a difficult topic for many parents to discuss with their children, but those conversations may save a life or prevent pain and suffering from a sexually transmitted disease.
“There are more than 20 sexually transmitted diseases and while all are preventable, not all are curable,” said Carolyn Wester, MD, MPH, medical director of the TDH HIV/STD Section. “Some are deadly, some can cause permanent damage to the reproductive and nervous systems, and some can cause bouts of pain for the rest of a person’s life. Unfortunately too many children become sexually active at very young ages, so it’s important for parents to provide accurate information earlier than later, and to help their children understand the consequences of their actions.”
In 2012, the Tennessee Department of Health recorded 31,013 new cases of chlamydia, 8,711 of gonorrhea, 923 of HIV and 261 of syphilis. In that year, 246 people under 24 years of age were diagnosed with HIV, with some of those under 15 years of age.
TDH Epidemiologist Tim Jones, MD, who saw his first HIV patients 30 years ago, is concerned about the false belief that all sexually transmitted diseases, particularly HIV, can be cured with drugs.
“That’s dangerous thinking,” said Jones. “Even though advances have been made in treating symptoms and prolonging life, there is currently no drug that will cure a person of HIV. It is, sadly, still deadly yet also easily preventable.”
Public health departments across Tennessee provide services to help people of all ages avoid sexually transmitted diseases. TDH clinics also provide confidential testing so individuals can know if they have been infected. Knowledge of an infection and early treatment are critical to every STD patient’s best chances for optimal treatment.
Parents wanting information about discussing sexually transmitted diseases with their children should visit the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services “Talking with Teens” page.