Guest Blog: STD Awareness Month, Get Yourself Tested!

Guest Blog: STD Awareness Month, Get Yourself Tested!

Guest blog post from Cori DePue 

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) have sat perched on the back burner of the American health care system for far too long. Sex education in American schools- at least those that offer it- are far from perfect. Even in relatively progressive towns and cities, students may not receive the knowledge and tools they need to lead healthy, sex-positive lives. Some sex education programs in the U.S. may focus solely on abstinence and fail to include important details on healthy sexual activity, fostering an environment that is not conducive to thorough discussion and inquiry by youth, especially when it comes to complex topics, such as STIs.

The terms STD vs STI are often used interchaneably, which is why you may come across both when reading about this issue. STD is used most commonly to refer to the collection of medical infections that are transmitted through sexual contact. However, people who become infected don’t always experience symptoms or have their infection develop into a disease, and that’s where the modern term “STI” comes from. Despite the fact that the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention continues to use the term STD, at Colorado Youth Matter, we prefer to use the term STI for a few reasons. It is a good reminder that even if an STI isn’t showing any symptoms, you still may be at risk of infecting someone else. We also prefer the term STI because the word “disease” can be stigmatizing and can have negative connotations.

According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, 20 million new sexually transmitted infections occur each year in the United States. Statistics show that America’s youth, aged 15-24, bear the burden of a substantial amount of these infections, accounting for nearly half of new infections each year. The rates of chlamydia infections among youth in Colorado has consistently risen over the past few years, which is likely due to an increase in screening and testing, as well as improved reporting of infection rates. However, gonorrhea infection rates among American teens (aged 15-19 years old) have remain relatively unchanged over the last few years, while rates among Colorado teens have steadily decreased, and are notably lower than national rates.

In addition to the health impact they have on an individual, STIs place a significant drain on our health care system, costing Americans roughly $16 billion annually. Despite this alarming news, it’s important to note that all sexually transmitted infections are treatable and most are curable! Comprehensive health care matters, and routine checks from a trusted provider help ensure that teens receive necessary STI screenings and treatment. A little more knowledge about sexually transmitted infections and preventative practices, a regular check-up, and encouragement to communicate openly and honestly about sexual health can go a long way.

April is STD Awareness month, an annual health observation period to help bring awareness to the growing crisis of STIs in the United States. While public awareness and knowledge are critically low around the country, STI’s remain at epidemic levels. The extremely high incidence and general prevalence of STIs in the lives of Americans suggest that many of us are at risk for contracting one or multiple infections. This month you can help Colorado Youth Matter raise awareness around this complex but resolvable issue! Join us to promote prevention education, improve access to health care, and reduce the stigma and shame associated with STIs.

How can you help?
Get yourself tested! Encourage friends, family members, and the youth in your life to get tested, as well.

Who should get tested?
Anyone who has engaged in oral, vaginal, or anal sex. STDs are not uncommon, and can be contracted from just one sexual experience.

What is the screening process like?
It depends upon what you are getting tested for, but it could be a urine sample, blood sample, a swab of your throat or self-swab of your anus. Regardless, it is a fairly simply process and well worth your time.

Uh-Oh, I tested positive. What’s next?
Don’t panic. Most STIs are curable and all are treatable. It is important to take action and begin treatment procedures immediately, to prevent spreading it to others. Recognize that you are not alone, and find someone you trust to support you through this process.

The good news is that amongst all the darkness, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. STD Awareness month is about providing you with accurate information and useful tools for STI prevention that you can share with youth in your life. Inform youth about STI’s and preventative practices and create an environment that allows them to communicate openly and honestly about their sexual health. Together, we can work to bring this hidden epidemic to the forefront of health battles, not only in Colorado, but across the nation!

Cori DePue is a recent college graduate from the University of Iowa who moved to Denver in July 2013 to pursue a career in Public Health. She currently works as a yoga instructor at the Freyja Project, a camp counselor at Camp ArtReach, and a server at Highland Tap and Burger. She loves hiking, cooking, and being out in the sun. Cori is dedicated to encouraging youth and young people to be more engaged in their personal health!