Teenage Sex and Sexually Transmitted Diseases

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Art by Ariana Nouri

Art by Ariana Nouri

 

This article answers a two-fold question: can condoms “totally” prevent sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), and is teenage sex alright in the view of the society. It is a fascinating and timely question as both of these phenomena are very common, and a concern on every teenager and every parents’ mind.

Dear Doctor Life Advice

I am wondering if it is OK and totally safe to have sex as long as the guy wears a condom. I am only 13 years old, so I am really confused about whether I will be considered a “whore” for this or not. I am asking for your help to find out if this is alright. I do really like the guy so it would not be just whore-sex, it would be compassionate sex. I can tell he cares about me because he lets me stay at his place to hangout and play video games. He also sang a song to me while he was playing the piano and it was charming.

Signed: Young and Curious

Dear Young and Curious,

Let’s begin by congratulating you for asking the question and doing research before having sex. You are basically asking about the safety of sex with use of condoms, and whether it is alright for someone as young as you to have sex. Both are very good questions, and I’m going to answer the easier question of condoms and STDs first, before I get to the more difficult and highly debatable question of when it is alright to start having sex.

Do Condoms Completely Protect People from All Sexually Transmitted Diseases?

The simple answer is no. The one and only way to guarantee prevention of all STDs is to not have any sexual contact. Obviously, wanting sex is a primal human instinct which is essential for the survival of our species, so most people will want sex at some point in their lives. Given these facts, lets examine what condoms do:

  • The first fact that you need to know about condoms is that they are useless if not used correctly. There are reliable sex education courses that teach the proper use and application of a condom, and anyone who intends to use condoms should educate himself or herself first instead of trying to figure it out the moment before having sexual intercourse.
  • Even when properly used, condoms have a risk of breaking. It is a very small risk, but it does exist and it is important to know that a broken condom is entirely useless in preventing anything.
  • Once you feel that you and your partner both know how to properly use a condom, and you are willing to live with the small risk that the condom may break, then you need to know what condoms do and do not prevent.

According to the Center for Disease Control, (CDC), condoms, “when used consistently and correctly” are highly effective in preventing anything that results from exchange of bodily fluids. The following is a list of what can occur as results of exchange of bodily fluids:

  • Pregnancy: let’s not forget the most common consequence of having unprotected sex.
  • Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV): This is the virus that can live in the body, and in most cases of infection, leads to the development of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). Aside from abstinence from sex, condoms are currently the most effective way of preventing HIV infection and AIDS.
  • Gonorrhea and chlamydia are easily treated if detected on time. If not, either one can interfere with a woman’s ability to get pregnant. Both are tested for during every well-woman exam.
  • Trichomoniasis is also easily treated if detected early. If it goes untreated, it can increase the risk of getting HIV, and can cause complications in a pregnancy.

Condoms are less effective in preventing STDs that are transmitted through the touching of skin. It is important to understand that even in these cases, use of condoms help reduce the risk of transmission since they reduce the amount of skin contact. The following is a list of what condoms are less effective in preventing:

  • Genital Herpes: This is a very common STD in the united states. It is caused by a virus and an average of one in six adults in the United States have genital herpes. Once a person is infected with this virus, he or she cannot be cured. Genital herpes usually don’t have symptoms. When they do, they appear as blisters or ulcers on the skin around the genital area. You can read more about genital herpes at the CDC website.
  • Syphilis is a bacteria that is spread by skin contact. It is a bacteria and is easily cured with antibiotics. It is one of the STDs that is checked for at every well-woman exam because it can go undetected for a long time, and it can cause brain damage and death if not treated.
  • Scabies: This is considered an STD, but can also be transmitted without sexual intercourse. Once diagnosed, it is easily treated.
  • Chancroid is very rare in the United States and is a bacterial infection that is treated with antibiotics.

At what Age is it Alright to Start Having Sex, and Will Others Judge Me?

I wish I had a good answer for this question. If after reading all of the above, you still want to take the risk of having sex, then you are correct, people will judge you. There is no correct age to have sex. Less developed societies marry off their young women very early, sometimes even before they become teenagers, and often to men that are more than twice their age. One of the reasons for this, however, is that people don’t live as long in less developed societies, so young girls need to have their babies and raise the ones that survive to a reasonable age.

In more developed societies, we have much more to learn and becoming an adult is a lot more complex. Therefore, we need more time to reach adulthood. We have more schooling to go through, and therefore our parents support us longer.  We also need to develop many more skills in order to be able to live independently. Having sex is considered an adult act. I agree with this consideration when I think about all the possible consequences that are associated with being sexually active. In our society, girls are judged very poorly when they become sexually active in their early teenage years. Boys are also judged, but I believe it is worse for girls.

I interact with a lot of teenagers both in my job and in my life, and I can see that a girl that is sexually active at age 13 is commonly considered a “whore.” You are correct in being concerned about this. You have to remember: you can’t control how people will judge you when you do something. There are two things you do have control over: 1- are you going to do something that you know will cause negative judgement towards you, and 2- do you really care about how others judge you? You need to really consider these two questions. Depending on how important it is to you to be accepted in society, you may decide to put off having sex. In the area in which I live, it seems that ages 17 or 18 and up are not judged poorly. I hear people talking very negatively about girls younger than 17 who are having sex. The problem becomes exponentially worse if the girl gets pregnant. There is no good way to get out of pregnancy. Whether the girls keeps the child, gives it up for adoption, or has an elective abortion, she seems to be doomed in society’s eyes. STDs are also viewed very negatively, so in addition to having to deal with having an STD, the infected ones also have to deal with how others talk about them and judge them.

Basically, if you decide to have sex at the age of 13, then you are going to be judged negatively. It is up to you to decide whether or not you are OK with the negative judgments.

 

Closing Thoughts:

It is important for you to understand that deciding to become sexually active is a very important step in any person’s life. This is not a decision to be taken lightly, as it may have life-long consequences. You are showing maturity by asking what the consequences are. You are looking at both the probability of STDs, as well as how the society will look at you; don’t forget the probability of pregnancy too. Regardless of when you decide to become sexually active, you need to know that the first person you will have sex with will remain in your memory for ever. Make sure whomever you pick is worth that permanent memory spot in your brain!

When you do decide to become sexually active, then you must be ready to accept the responsibilities that come with it. If you are female, then one important responsibility is to have a well-woman exam as soon as possible after you become sexually active, and then have the exam regularly every year. If you are male, it’s also important to be tested for STDs once a year. Another important responsibility that you are faced with, is the decision of what you would do in case you or your partner get pregnant. It’s important for you to have this decision ahead of time, and to discuss it with your partner.

Although I am not in a position to tell you what to do, I do think you should give some serious thought to whether or not you want to become sexually active at such a young age. In addition to using condoms “consistently and correctly,” you can minimize risk of STDs by minimizing the number of sexual partners you have. The most effective way of preventing STDs is to pick one long-term partner, both get tested for STDs before you become sexually active, use condoms every time, and remain in a monogamous relationship. Get to know your potential partner really well before having sex with him or her. Understand that there is no hurry to jump into a sexual relationship with anyone. In fact, never have sex with a person because you are feeling pressured by him or her. If your potential partner does not respect you enough to wait for you until the time that you are ready, then he or she does not deserve you.

The question you submitted is a very complicated one, and there is much controversy surrounding it. I hope my answers can help you make an informed and sound decision.

Doctor Life Advice

 



One Comment

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About Doctor Life Advice

Doctor Beheshti

I am a compassionate and well trained psychiatric doctor, and I spend my days talking to others and helping them with their daily issues and problems. I have come to understand that all of us, regardless of our backgrounds and our life stories - every one of which is unique - share similar wants and needs.

I love my job which allows me to hear unique stories and help each of my clients individually. Although I cannot take the place of your doctor, I would love to hear your story too and perhaps provide some advice that will be useful to you, as well as others that will benefit from your story.

I have a sense of humor which comes through in my writings. Please know that I NEVER intend to make light of anyone's painful or sensitive situation. I only use humor because I think sometimes a smile and a little chuckle can go a long way in helping us feel better.

Doctor Life Advice is written and maintained by Sayeh Beheshti, M.D., M.A., a private practice psychiatrist in Newport Beach, CA.


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