Teens and young adults

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By the age 25, half of all youth will have acquired one or more infections. That’s more than 9 million youth with a sexually transmitted infection.

Young people aged 15-24 represent only a quarter of the sexually active population. Yet they have almost half of all sexually transmitted infections (STIs) out there! Let’s take a look at which sexually transmitted infections affect youth most.

Why is it that STDs/STIs continue to be a problem among young people?

It is not a question as to whether teenagers are having sex. By twelfth grade, 65% of high school students will have engaged in sexual intercourse, and one in five sexually active teens will have had four or more sexual partners. These numbers continue to rise after high school. Teenagers and young adults are a vulnerable population because they make decisions and act in ways that put them at greater risk for STIs.

Young people are more likely than any other age group to:

Although STIs can be scary and embarrassing at times, they are not uncommon. Click here to learn ways to stay healthy and to protect against STIs.

Talking to your parents about sex

You probably think that talking to your parents about sex is impossible. You're not alone; 83 percent of kids your age are afraid to ask their parents about sex.1 Yet 51 percent of teens actually do2. Why? It's a fact that teens who talk with their parents about sex are less likely to become pregnant because they're more likely to use contraception or protection when they become sexually active.

So... kids are not only talking to their parents about sex, they're also benefiting from conversations they were afraid to have in the first place!

Lucky them, right? The truth is that most parents want to help their kids make smart decisions about sex. They know it's vital for teens to have accurate information and sound advice to aid the decision-making process.

Not my parents! 

Before you rule out talking to your parents, ask yourself these two questions:

  1. Do they want to talk about it with me, but are too nervous and embarrassed to bring it up?
    If you think your parents are really nervous about raising the issue, you're probably right. Many parents think that if they acknowledge their child as a sexual being, their son or daughter will think it's okay to go ahead and have sex. They might also be afraid that if they don't have all the answers, they'll look foolish. Some parents have said they're afraid kids will ask personal questions about their sex life, questions they won't want to answer.
  1. Do I know and trust another adult who will answer my questions without making a big deal out of it?
    Think about all the adults in your life. Is there someone else's parent . . .a teacher or guidance counselor, coach, aunt, uncle, neighbor or another adult you instinctively trust? That's the person who will give you straight answers.

If you're still not convinced it's a good idea to talk to an adult, consider this:

  • Your parents (or any other adult) are sexual beings themselves and at one time or another in their life, they had to make the same decisions you're struggling with right now.
  • Your friends really don't know any more than you do, no matter what they say about their sexual experience.3
  • The Internet, and other media, can't give you answers that address your unique background, personality and intelligence. Only people who know you can do that.

Now that you know why it's important to ask a caring adult about sex, you need to know how to ask the questions.

First, set the stage

  • Try to pick a time when neither of you are in a hurry or a bad mood. "Not now" is not the answer you're shooting for.
  • Choose a place that's comfortable and private. Your bedroom, the car or a park are all good options. The idea is to minimize distractions and interruptions.

Set the tone

  • The best way to ensure that your side of the discussion will be respected, is to show respect to theirs. It's natural for you to have differing opinions; acknowledge it and respond tactfully: "I want to think more about what you've said. Can I ask you a different question?"
  • Be polite. Good manners help keep the conversation on a high level of respect and can even elevate it to a higher level, especially if one of you says or does something "wrong."
  • Be truthful. What's the point in asking questions if you don't want real answers? Besides, you know what happens when you're not honest. Somehow, sometime it comes back to haunt you. So just say what you mean.
  • Be direct. If you want to know about birth control or sexually transmitted infections or homosexuality or any other sensitive issue, ask. The only way to get a clear answer is to ask a question clearly.
  • Listen. You might be surprised by how much they know and how good their advice is.

Choose your approach

  • "I heard someone say..." (Fill in the blank with your question.) Then follow with: "Is that true?"
  • "Some of the kids at school are doing... (Fill in the blank again.) I want to know what you think."
  • "I saw this... (movie/TV show/article/ad) about... (Yup, fill in the blank again). What does it mean?"
  • "What was dating like in your day?"
  • "Did your friends ever pressure you into having sex or doing something you didn't like?"
  • "Our sex-ed teacher told us about... (You know what to do here.) and I have questions I'd rather ask you."
  • "I'm worried about my friend (Don't fill in the blank.) and want to help him/her. What do you think I should I do?"
  • "I'm wondering what the right age is to have sex. Can we talk about it?"

Stop on a good note

Talking about sex with a parent or another caring adult shouldn't be a one-time, big talk. Instead, turn it into an ongoing dialog by leaving the door open for further discussion. Thank your mother, father or whoever you talk to for taking the time to help.

And remember:
Your sexual journey is just beginning. You have time to consider your options and people to help you make healthy decisions. Take advantage of both. Be one of the "lucky" ones who listens, learns and loves wisely.

Talking to your healthcare provider

You should be talking to your healthcare provider about how to be sexually healthy and make sure that you understand how to protect yourself from STIs as effectively as possible.

Be sure to get tested for STIs on a regular basis. Many STIs do not have physical symptoms, and it's crucial that you know your status so that you can take steps to treat your body if you do suffer from an infection--and so that you can protect your partner.

Remember, your healthcare provider is here to help you maintain good health in all areas of your life, so be sure to be completely honest about your concerns and experiences. This will help your healthcare provider have a full, clear picture of your health as a whole, because good sexual health and good general health go hand in hand.

Here are some conversation openers that may be helpful:

  • "When I do decide to have sex, I want to make sure that I'm taking all of the right steps to protect myself from STIs. Where should I start?"
  • [If you have a female partner] "How can I talk with my partner about birth control?"
  • "How can I talk to my partner about STDs/STIs? Can you give me some advice?"
  • "I want to make sure that my partner and I get tested before we have sex for the first time. Where should I go? How should I bring up the topic with him/her?"




  1. Communication: A Series of National Surveys of Teens about Sex. Menlo Park, CA: Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, 2002.
  2. ibid.
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Sexual and Reproductive Health of Persons Aged 10-24 Years, United States 2002-2007", July 2009.