April is STI Awareness Month. Sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS, affect about 9 million young people in this country. In fact, sexually active youth are the group with the highest rate of infection from STIs. Why are young people so disproportionately affected by STIs? For one, they tend to have unprotected sex when they have sex. That’s something we’re trying to change, by promoting comprehensive sex education and awareness, and provision of clinical services. Another reason is that younger people tend not to be in monogamous relationships as often as older adults. In addition to educating sexually active teens about condom usage and birth control, it’s important that we also educate them about the consequences of having multiple sexual partners.
One of the many key ways that we, as public health professionals, can help raise awareness of STI and HIV prevention is to advocate for medical staff (doctors and nurses) to include discussion about STI prevention, diagnosis and treatment with teens at their regular medical appointments. According to the American Social Health Association, the majority of doctors don’t even mention STIs to their adolescent patients. As a result, only 14% of men and 8% of women think they are even at risk for contracting an STI. Increasing doctor-patient communication surrounding STIs can not only help reduce the associated stigma, it can also go a long way toward making teens (and adults) aware of the risks and consequences of having unprotected sex.
We encourage you to create a campaign next month to raise awareness in your community about STIs and youth. Talking about it in classrooms, having a poster contest, creating a PSA for your local radio or TV station, or working with your local medical association to promote doctor involvement in the campaign are all good ways to get people talking—and thinking—about prevention STIs and HIV.
Here are some resources you can use in April. This list is by no means inclusive of all the great resources that are out there, so please explore the Internet, your local health department, and other community resources for materials that will work best for your population.