According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, teenage pregnancy remains a problem, but has been steadily declining for the past 10 years. The prevalence of STDs however, is on the rise.
“We always state in our public presentations that abstinence is the true and only way to prevent getting an STD. However we do have to talk about the reality of it,” said Lyyti Dudczyk, program manager of STD/HIV Services at the Will County Health Department.
Since February is National Condom Month, it seems like a good time to address the problem.
Teens and young adults between the ages of 14 and 25 are the fastest growing group of people contracting STDs.
In 2011, 15- to 24-year-olds accounted for 73 percent of all gonorrhea cases and 75 percent of chlamydia cases in Will County.
Chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis and HIV are the diseases that must be reported in Illinois, but there are many others out there, such as herpes and HPV, that are also common and can be prevented by practicing safe sex.
Dudczyk said chlamydia and gonorrhea are treatable infections. It's when infections go untreated or happen on a recurrent basis that they can lead to future complications, such as like infertility, especially for women.
“Treating the partners is the key once an STD has been identified," Dudczyk said. "The partner or partners need to be treated otherwise we can’t stop the cycle."
In Illinois, expedited partner therapy or EPT, allows a qualified healthcare provider to write a prescription for a patient’s partner/partners in cases of chlamydia or gonorrhea, without the partner actually seeing a physician.
“Most STDs have stigmas associated with them, but HIV is really on top of the list,” said Charlie Palmer, a prevention specialist at Regional Care Association.
Regional Care Association is a non-profit organization that provides services for people who are HIV positive and educates the public on HIV awareness and prevention programs in the community.
“People become infected with HIV, which is the virus, and AIDS is what happens once the immune system is damaged,” Palmer said.
HIV as well as other STDs can be asymptomatic, which means there are no immediate physical signs of infection. It’s one of the reasons that testing is so important, he said.
“We get a lot of support from the community (and) that encourages more people to test," Palmer said. “Probably better than 20 percent of the people we test, within a 6-month period, they’re talking about it and getting their friends to test.”
At Regional Care’s facility, an initial screening can determine if someone is HIV-negative in about 15 minutes.
While testing is important, it would be better if the risk to exposure was simply lessened. This can happen only with abstinence, condom use or other protective barriers.
There are condoms made for both men and women. Most are made from latex, but some use synthetic materials designed for people with sensitivity or allergies to latex.
“It's not a simple as, ‘Here's a condom -- put it on.' I tell people to protect themselves whether they are gay, straight, bi, lesbian – it doesn’t matter – anyone who is having any kind of sexual relations has to protect themselves,” said Gini Lester, a registered nurse and president of Community Alliance and Action Network in Joliet.
“(The network) is one of the few places that provides safer sex items, like dental dams and protective barriers for lesbians.”
Dental dams are used to prevent the transmission of disease during female oral sex. Condoms can also be used for this purpose for males.
Lester's agency is a nonprofit organization that provides resources and support services to the LGBTQ -- lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender and "questioning" (sometimes identified as "queer") -- community.
Everyone should know the status of their sexual health. STD/HIV testing can be done through your regular physician or at any of the following local organizations.
- Will County Health Department Community Health Center
- Regional Care Association (HIV testing only)
- Aunt Martha’s Health Centers
- Planned Parenthood
The above locations also provide free condoms and other safe sex supplies.
Editor's Note: The videos attached to this post could contain content that some would consider unsuitable for young children.
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