CHOC Children's
GROWTH AND DEVELOPMENT :: Adolescent (13 to 18 Years)

Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs)

What are sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)?

Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are infectious diseases transmitted through sexual contact. Unprotected sexual intercourse places young persons at risk for HIV infection, other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), and pregnancy. Each year, there are about 19 million new STD cases in the US, and about one-half of these are among young people between 15 and 24 years old.

Protecting your adolescent from STDs:

The surest way to prevent contracting an STD is to advise your adolescent to abstain from any type of sexual activity. However, if your adolescent becomes sexually active, you can advise him/her on taking certain precautionary measures for reducing the risk of acquiring an STD, as recommended by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). These measures include the following:

  • have a mutually monogamous sexual relationship with an uninfected partner
  • use (consistently and correctly) a male condom
  • use sterile needles if injecting intravenous (IV) drugs
  • decrease susceptibility to HIV infections by preventing and controlling other STDs
  • delay having sexual relationships as long as possible (the younger a person is when they begin to have sex for the first time, the more susceptible they become to developing an STD)
  • have regular checkups for STDs
  • learn the symptoms of STDs and seek medical help as soon as possible if any symptoms develop
  • avoid having sexual intercourse during menstruation
  • avoid anal intercourse, or use a male condom
  • avoid douching

What should my adolescent do if diagnosed with a STD?

Treatment for STDs should begin as soon as possible. In addition, your adolescent's sexual partner(s) should be notified so they may seek treatment. Urge your teen to abstain from sexual activity during his/her treatment and make sure he/she is tested again at a follow-up checkup.

What are some common types of STDs?

Numerous STDs have been identified and affect more than 19 million men and women in this country each year. According to the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases and Centers for Disease Control, common types of STDs include:

Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS)
AIDS is caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), a virus that destroys the body's ability to fight off infection.

People who have AIDS are very susceptible to many life-threatening diseases and to certain forms of cancer. Transmission of the virus occurs during sexual activity or by the sharing of needles used to inject intravenous drugs.

Human Papillomaviruses (HPVs)
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a common sexually transmitted disease that can cause genital warts called condylomas. These condylomas can occur on the inside or outside areas of the genitals and may spread to the surrounding skin or to a sexual partner. Because HPV infection does not always cause warts, the infection may go undetected. Women with HPV infection have an increased risk of developing cervical cancer. Regular Pap smears can detect HPV infection as well as abnormal cervical cells. Also, a new HPV vaccine has been approved by the FDA to help prevent cervical cancer.

Although there is treatment for the condylomas (which sometimes go away on their own), the virus remains and warts can reappear. Smoking appears to increase problems related to HPV infection. Other types of HPV can also cause warts on other body parts such as the hands, called common warts, however, these do not generally cause health problems.

Chlamydial Infections
Chlamydial infections, the most common of all STDs, can affect both males and females. Infections may cause an abnormal genital discharge and burning with urination. In females, untreated chlamydial infection may lead to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). However, many people with chlamydial infection have few or no symptoms of infection.
Gonorrhea causes a discharge from the vagina or penis and painful or difficult urination. The most common and serious complications occur in females, which include pelvic inflammatory disease, ectopic (tubal) pregnancy, and infertility.
Genital Herpes
Genital herpes infections are caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV).

Symptoms may include painful blisters or open sores in the genital area, which may be preceded by a tingling or burning sensation in the legs, buttocks, or genital region. The herpes sores usually disappear within a few weeks, but the virus remains in the body and the lesions may recur from time to time.

The initial symptom of syphilis is a painless open sore that usually appears on the penis or around or in the vagina. If untreated, syphilis may go on to more advanced stages, including a transient rash and, eventually, serious involvement of the heart and central nervous system.
Genital Warts
Genital warts or venereal warts (condylomata acuminata) are caused by a virus related to the virus that causes common skin warts. Usually, genital warts first appear as small, hard, painless bumps in the vaginal area, on the penis, or around the anus.
Other diseases that may be sexually transmitted include the following:
  • bacterial vaginosis
  • chancroid
  • cytomegalovirus infections
  • granuloma inguinale (donovanosis)
  • lymphogranuloma venereum
  • molluscum contagiosum
  • pubic lice
  • scabies
  • trichomoniasis
  • vaginal yeast infections

Source: National Institute of Allergy
and Infectious Diseases

Facts about STDs and adolescents:

  • STDs affect men and women of all backgrounds and economic levels. However, nearly half of all STDs occur in people younger than age 25.
  • STDs are on the rise, possibly due to more sexually active people who have multiple sex partners during their lives.
  • Many STDs initially cause no symptoms. In addition, many STD symptoms may be confused with those of other diseases not transmitted through sexual contact - especially in women. Even symptom-less STDs can be contagious.

Women suffer more frequent and severe symptoms from STDs:

  • Some STDs can spread into the uterus (womb) and fallopian tubes and cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), which, can lead to both infertility and ectopic (tubal) pregnancy.
  • STDs in women also may be associated with cervical cancer.
  • STDs can be passed from a mother to her baby before or during birth. Some infections of the newborn may be successfully treated, but others may cause a baby to be permanently disabled or even die.

When diagnosed early, many STDs can be successfully treated.

Click here to view the
Online Resources of Growth & Development


It is important to remember the health information found on this website is for reference only not intended to replace the advice and guidance of your healthcare provider. Always seek the advice of your physician with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your physician or 911 immediately.

© Children's Hospital of Orange County