We’ve been focusing on sexuality and sexually transmitted infections in teens in the this series of posts. Now, let’s talk about the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) that’s caused by a bacteria: Chlamydia.
Most people with chlamydia don’t know it. The most common symptom is nothing at all, so it is extremely important that any teen who is sexually active be screened. The CDC recommends all women younger than age 25 who are sexually active be screened for chlamydia each year (about 1 in 15 sexually active females age 14-19 has chlamydia). Men who have sex with men should also be screened every year. Why worry about an infection that doesn’t cause symptoms?
Well, if left untreated, chlamydia can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, a sometimes painful infection that can lead to scarring of the fallopian tubes and infertility or a life threatening pregnancy outside of the uterus (ectopic pregnancy). In males, they may develop a burning sensation with urination, or rarely, an infection called epididymitis (swelling of the testicles). If a woman is pregnant and has chlamydia, the baby is at risk for developing a dangerous eye infection, pneumonia, or being born early.
Chlamydia is spread through sexual contact: oral, anal, or vaginal sex. It can lead to infection of the throat, rectum, or cervix (the lower portion of a woman’s uterus). Though most people have no symptoms, infection can lead to burning with urination, discharge, or itching.
Screening and diagnosis is done through a laboratory test: either a urine sample or a vaginal swab (usually collected by the individual or health care provider). Treatment is with antibiotics and a person’s sexually partners over the past 2 months should be treated too.
Fortunately, chlamydia is preventable. The only 100% guarantee that a person will not get chlamydia is to not have sex, but using condoms with every sexual encounter also protects against the spread of chlamydia.
So what can a parent do to help protect their teen from chlamydia?
Talk to your teen about sexuality and relationships. Not just having ‘the talk’ but many conversations about the topic. This can be a very challenging thing to discuss, but sex is all around. Just turn on the radio or watch TV. Use our media to your advantage… the next time a commercial for perfume comes on, comment on how sexuality isn’t all about a look or smell. Discuss what a healthy relationship means to you and share your expectations about sex and relationships with your teen. This conversation will hopefully, lead to future discussions. Sure your teen may be embarrassed, or refuse to talk initially, but just bringing up the topic of sex shows that your are available to listen and answer questions.
If your teen is sexually active, encourage them to get screened for sexually transmitted infections. Ask your primary care provider about screening or use your teen’s school based health clinic (if available).
Let your teen know that condoms need to be used with every sexual encounter.
If you are uncomfortable or have questions talk to your teen’s health care provider.
What tips to readers have for other parents on how to talk with their teens about sex and relationships?