Empowering Teenage Girls For Life's Moments

Preventing STIs (sexually transmitted infections)

Get Informed - Safe Sex

Not So Fun Facts

  • Although 15–24-year-olds represent only one-quarter of the sexually active population, they account for nearly half (9.1 million) of the new cases of sexually transmitted infections each year.(1)
  • Trichomoniasis and chlamydia are the next most common STI diagnoses among 15–24-year-olds, then Genital herpes and gonorrhea. (1)
  • Young people aged 13–24 accounted for about 21% of all new HIV diagnoses in the United States in 2011.(1)
  • In 2006–2010, 86% of female teens and 93% of male teens reported using contraceptives at last sex.(1)
  • The condom is the most common contraceptive method used at first intercourse; 68% of females and 80% of males use it the first time they have sex.
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV) infections account for about half of STIs diagnosed among 15–24-year-olds each year. HPV is extremely common and often asymptomatic. However, certain types, if left undetected and untreated, can lead to cervical cancer.(1)
Get Informed - Safe Sex

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Everyone Having Sex?

Over 1/2 (53%) of high school students have never had sexual intercourse.  So, most students are NOT having sex. (2).  Further, 69% of young adults (age 18-24) say that it is acceptable for someone their age to be a virgin. (3)

What type of Barrier Devices are Available?

Barrier devices work by preventing sperm from entering the cervix (the opening to the uterus). Contraceptives that use this method are called barrier devices because they block sperm. Barrier devices include:

  1. The male condom;
  2. The female condom;
  3. The cervical cap (a smaller rubber circle that sits right on the cervix);
  4. The diaphragm (a floppy rubber circle that covers the cervix);
  5.  A spermicide (a chemical placed in the vagina that kills sperm.  There are foam, cream, film, and suppositories that contain spermicides. These should be used with a condom;
  6. The sponge (a donut-shaped foam sponge that is inserted into the vagina.

When used alone, barrier methods have a failure rate of 12-28%.  When not used correctly, the failure rate can be even higher.  For more information on barrier methods and their effectiveness, refer to:


Which Disease are STIs?

Sexually transmitted infections (also called STDs by some) are infections that can be spread through vaginal penile, anal, or oral sex.

Sexually transmitted diseases are passed between individuals through contact with the genitals, skin, mouth, rectum, or bodily fluids. STIs  include:

  • Chlamydia
  • Gonorrhea
  • Genital herpes
  • Hepatitis B
  • Hepatitis C
  • Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV)
  • Syphilis
  • Trichomonas

For detailed information about each STI, please refer to:


How Common are STIs?

Approximately one in four teenagers and young adults get an STI each year. Anyone who is having sex or sexual contact is at risk for an STI.  Teenagers at increased risk include those who have multiple (more than one) partners, those whose partner is infected with an STI, and those who have unprotected sex.

How Do I Know If I Have an STI?

Sexually transmitted diseases can cause problems ranging from mild irritation to severe pain,  but most are present with no symptoms at all.  Thus, you cannot always tell if a person has an STI, and they may not know about it themselves.  For this reason, all sexually active teens should get screened for STIs every year and when they get a new partner.

How Can I Prevent STIs?

To prevent STIs use a condom every time, limit your number of sexual partners, and get the  HPV and Hep B vaccinations.

If I have an STI, Do I Have to Tell My Partner?

If you are diagnosed with an STI, it is important to tell your partner so that he/she can get tested and treated as needed. Otherwise your partner may pass the infection back to you again after you have had treatment or he/she may pass it on to someone else.

Can I Get Tested For STIs Without My Parents Permission?

In most states, minors (people younger than age 18 years) have the right to make choices about STI screening without their parents’ permission. Discuss with your health care provider  your rights in this regard and how the visit can be kept private .  Be aware that if you use your parents’ health insurance to pay for a doctor’s visit as it may appear on the bill that your parents receive. Most cities also have STI clinics that allow a teen to get STI screening and treatment free of charge or at a low cost.

Tips to Avoid Pregnancy and STIs

Get Informed - Safe Sex

You should make up your own mind to have sex when the time is right for you. If you are not ready for sex, say NO, as abstinence is the only way to ensure that you do not get pregnant and do not get infections.

If you think you are ready to have sex, or if you already have had sex, it is best to be responsible in your actions.  Responsibility includes preventing pregnancy AND sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Contraception, also called birth control, helps stop you from becoming pregnant. Each month an egg is released from the female ovary (ovulation). If the egg is met by a sperm, the egg can become fertilized and attach to the inside of the womb or uterus (implantation). Pregnancy occurs when the fertilized egg is implanted.  Teens have many contraceptive choices to choose from in order to prevent pregnancy.

Contraception comes in many forms, including:

  • Barrier devices
  • Birth control pill (The “pill” that you have to remember to take daily)
  • Birth control ”patch” (which sticks to your skin and is changed weekly)
  • Vaginal contraceptive ring (placed inside the vagina for 3 weeks at a time)
  • Contraceptive hormone injections or “the shot” (administered every 3 months)
  • Implant placed under the skin in your arm (that can last for up to 3 years)
  • Intrauterine device-IUD (Contraception that a health care provider places inside of the uterus for up to 10 years)

For a list of all available contraceptions and further information about each, including the pros/cons of each method, please refer to:

The American College of OBGYNs and Birth Control-Especially for Teens

Need Help?  What to Do If You Find You Think you are Pregnant or Have an STI?

As soon as you think you may be pregnant or have an infection, you should confide in an adult who you trust who can help you make important decisions regarding pregnancy and/or treatment options.

You should see a doctor or go to a clinic to confirm that you are pregnant or have an infection. Then the doctor will talk to you about your options for treatment.


  1. Guttmacher Institute: Facts on American Teens’ Sexual and Reproductive Health. At http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/FB-ATSRH.html, last accessed 8/15/14. 
  2. 2013 Youth Risk Behavior Survey.  At http://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/yrbs/pdf/trends/us_sexual_trend_yrbs.pdf, last accessed 8/15/14.
  3. National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. At http://thenationalcampaign.org, last accessed 8/15/14.

Updated 8/15/14

Disclaimer: All health information on Girlsmarts.org is for informational purposes only. The Content is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a trusted adult/guardian or professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Never disregard parental or professional medical advice or delay in seeking these because of something you have read on the Girlsmarts.org website. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call a trusted adult and your doctor or 911 immediately.

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