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April is STD Awareness Month

Gail Bolan

Gail Bolan

“A person who has an STD will also always have discharge or bumps as symptoms of the infection.”

“STD testing is for cheaters.”

“The birth control pill will protect me from common STDs.”

After working in the STD clinic setting for many years, and in my current role as the Director of CDC’s Division of STD Prevention, I can tell you that I’ve heard these and many other misperceptions about STD prevention, testing, and treatment.

For the record: Many STDs don’t cause symptoms—STD testing is the only way to know if a person is infected—A person does not have to have several sex partners in order to get an STD—Anyone who has unprotected vaginal, anal, or oral sex is at risk of getting an STD and/or HIV—Birth control methods like the pill, patch, ring, and IUD’s are very effective at preventing pregnancy, but they do not protect against STDs or HIV.

When it comes to preventing and testing for STDs, it is important to know the facts. This STD Awareness Month, CDC and partners have worked to debunk myths and provide accurate, helpful information about STD prevention, testing, and treatment. While those of us working in the field of STD/HIV prevention understand that these concepts are straightforward, we can’t assume that the people we serve know how to prevent STDs. This is especially true for young people. While STDs affect people of all ages, these diseases take a particularly heavy toll on America’s future generations. It is estimated that half of the new STDs that occur in the United States each year are among young men and women. We also know that people who have certain STDs are more likely to get HIV than people who do not have these STDs. These are basic facts. So what can we do?

We can make sure people Know the Facts
  • The only sure way to avoid STDs is to not have sex, but if you are sexually active, you can reduce your risk by using a condom.
  • Condoms, when used correctly and consistently, are very effective in preventing STDs and HIV.
  • STD tests aren’t always part of a regular doctor visit. Many doctors may not give you an HIV or STD test unless you ask for one.
We can remind them to GYT: Get Yourself Tested

Providers and outreach coordinators can encourage and educate sexually active patients, especially young patients, to get tested for STDs and HIV. A 2014 study found that one-third of all young people didn’t talk about issues of sex and sexuality at all during their annual health visits. Resources are available to help better serve these younger patients. Please explore the GYT Providers or Program Planners and Prevention Partners sections of CDC’s STD Awareness Resources site.

We can Share the Knowledge

Another source is the GYT: Get Yourself Tested campaign. It is a youth-oriented, empowering social movement to encourage young people to get tested and treated for STDs and HIV. GYT campaign materials have been developed for doctors, health departments, school administrators, and community-based organizations to help young people increase their knowledge about STD prevention and testing. You can order newly designed GYT posters, stickers, and postcards at CDC-INFO on Demand to display in schools, clinics, community organizations, and health departments.

STD Awareness Month provided us with an opportunity to clear up misperceptions about STD prevention and testing, and confront the unique challenges that young people face when it comes to preventing these infections. And I encourage you to continue doing so in your healthcare practices or outreach efforts.