More Than Half Of Sexually Active Young Women Aren't Being Tested For STDs — And It's A Major Problem
Going for an STD test can be a daunting experience, especially for a young person. There's still such a taboo around sex generally — and STDs specifically — that it's far too easy to avoid going, even when you know you should. But it turns out that this avoidance can have some major health consequences. A study conducted by Quest Diagnostics looked at 3,414 young women between the ages of 15-24 and found that, despite the fact that 56 percent of those surveyed were sexually active, far too few of them were having STD tests.
"I think the [study] just shows how much work needs to be done in regards to communication in healthcare," Dr. Rachel Gelman, DPT, PT tells Bustle. "...Sexual health is important, yet it is so often neglected. On the patient side it shows how we need to implement better sex education so that people know the risks and prevention strategies for STIs and that they are aware that STD/STI testing is important and necessary even if you are practicing safe sex. That way patients can feel more comfortable advocating for themselves since that may be necessary based on the stats in this study. So at the end of the day it seems like the big theme is a need for more education all around to improve communication and build awareness so that people can start having these essential conversations."
A big part of the problem is a fundamental — the way that we talk about sex as a society creates too much shame and a taboo around the issue. Even when we know we're enjoying ourselves and that there's nothing wrong with our behavior, we can still feel embarrassed by it.
"We are given such mixed messages around sex that women may engage in activities freely but then be uncomfortable or embarrassed to say it out loud — even to her medical provider," relationship therapist Aimee Hartstein, LCSW tells Bustle. "I also think that there is an element of burying one’s head in the sand. If you ignore the idea of STD testing, then you can ignore that you might have had unsafe sex and possibly done some things that you are uncomfortable about. Clearly, this is not the way to take care of one’s health or one’s self, but it is still a mode in which many people operate." But the truth is, even if you're having protected sex you should be getting tested occasionally, just to be sure. Being responsible means staying aware of your sexual health.
The study revealed that too often that just isn't happening — and a lot of it has to do with the shame and awkwardness young people feel when it comes to talking about sex. Here's what they study found.
1. 27% Of Young Women Aren't Honest With Their Clinicians
This was really worrying — 27 percent of young women surveyed said that they weren't comfortable talking to their clinician about sex and the same number said that they weren't honest about their sexual history. If there's one person you should be honest with about your sexual history, it's a healthcare professional. They've seen it all before — and will know what you need in terms of tests and prevention.
2. Just Over Half Of Young Women Had Been Tested For An STD
Too many people just aren't getting tested. Only 56 percent of respondents who were sexually active had been tested for an STD — which, at just over half, means that a worrying 44 percent of sexually active young women hadn't been tested for STDs.
3. Only 51% Had Been Asked About Testing By A Clinician
Only 51 percent of young women who responded said that they had been asked by a clinician if they wanted an STD test — but, as Quest Diagnostics points out, medical guidelines say that all sexually active young people should be tested every year, whether they have symptoms or not. The young women should be asking for them, but the clinicians should also be offering — and explaining that it's in their best interest to be tested.
4. Most Young Women Feel Invincible
Around 90 percent of young women surveyed said that they didn't feel vulnerable to gonorrhea or chlamydia, even though everyone who has sex is at risk.
5. 1/4 Sexually Active Adolescents Have An STD
Young people are getting STDs. The report noted that one in four sexually active adolescents had one, which is too large of a percentage.
6. Half Of All New STD Cases Are Found In Adolescents
When it comes to new STD cases emerging, half of all new cases occur in people aged 15-24, more proof that this group needs to be extra careful with their sexual health.
7. Less Than 40% Used A Condom The Last Time They Had Sex
Despite the prevalence of STDs, only 39 percent of those surveyed had used a condom the last time they had sex.
So what's the answer? I's time to reduce the stigma around sex so people will feel more comfortable being candid — but it's also about education. The study found that 90 percent of young women who are educated about STDs thought that young women from 15 to 24 should be tested once a year for chlamydia and gonorrhea if they're sexually active. So the more you know, the more informed your opinions become — and that can make a huge difference.