As a general rule, young people have quite a bit of sex. Given the decline, if not elimination, of the social taboo against premarital sex, overly sexualized advertisements that help create an “everybody’s doing it” mentality, easy access to alcohol on college campuses and the ever-present specter of peer pressure, it is no surprise that many young people find it incredibly easy to fall in bed with someone. The problem, however, is that a painfully large number of young people have no idea what sort of risks they are taking by sleeping with people.

A recent survey by the charity The Mix found that nearly 20 percent of young people between the ages of 18 and 24 in the United Kingdom admitted that they do not understand sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), also called sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Dr. Martin Godfrey warned, “Pop culture may be seen to encourage short term sexual relationships without talking about protection and STIs, which can put young people at risk.”

The Mix’s survey also found that more than a third of respondents had never had STD testing done. Of that third, 44 percent felt that STD testing was unnecessary because they had used protection. Unfortunately, protection can fail and no form of protection works 100 percent of the time.

Another 20 percent of respondents who had never had STD testing said that they refused to get tested because they found it embarrassing. Overall, most respondents stated that the only reason they would bother to get tested would be if they had the symptoms of an STD. Although the logic appears sound at first glance, why go to the doctor if you are not sick, most STDs are asymptomatic. There are no symptoms for a person to experience despite the irreversible damage that the disease may be doing to an infected person’s body. “With many STIs being symptomless, young people need to get tested to be sure they don’t have an infection and don’t put their partners at risk,” said Dr. Godfrey.

Testing for STDs is essential for anyone who is sexually active especially if one person has had multiple partners. Tests are usually simple, inexpensive and are always confidential. They are also usually readily available. It is concerning, however, that many young people are apparently unaware that testing is even necessary. The lack of understanding is even more alarming given the recent discovery of a new strain of gonorrhea, a common STD that may now be incurable. Should such ignorance collide with such a superbug, there is every possibility that STDs will become the deadly scourge they were hundreds of years ago. No one wants that to happen which means it is time to find a way to make teens pay better attention in health class regardless of how much they snicker in sex ed.

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