The MDH (Minnesota Department of Health) released new 2011 STD (sexually transmitted disease) statistics, and adolescents and young adults ages 15-24 comprise the majority of all chlamydia and gonorrhea cases in the state — 70 percent of chlamydia cases and 61 percent of gonorrhea cases. Regardless of what parents may hope or think, Minnesota teens are sexually active and many are unprotected against sexually transmitted diseases. According to the MN Student Survey 2010, 19.8 percent of 9th graders and 49.5 percent of 12th graders in Minnesota public schools have had sex. Many high school students do not use condoms, which provide protection against sexually transmitted diseases. Some 35 percent of 12th grade high school males and and 43 percent of females did not use a condom the last time they had sex.
Chlamydia rates in Minnesota are up nine percent and gonorrhea rates are up five percent. Minnesota STD and AIDS director Peter Carr said that some of the increase in reported infection rates may be due to more people getting tested and improved screening. Both gonorrhea and chlamydia often show no signs or symptoms in males or females, making it easy to spread from partner to partner. According to Carr, “young women are physiologically more susceptible to infection and 75 percent of women with chlamydia don’t have any symptoms.”
“Infection can be prevented by consistent and correct condom use,” said Carr. Chlamydia and gonorrhea can lead to infertility in women and men and can be passed from an infected woman to her newborn children, causing premature delivery, infant pneumonia and blindness. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends health care providers screen all sexually active women under 25 annually for chlamydia. Carr says, “it’s not a bad question for adolescents or young adults to be asking,” if their provider doesn’t initiate testing. To reduce infection rates, it is also imperative that recent partners of infected persons also be treated with an antibiotic. Individuals can anonymously notify a partner that they may have been exposed to an STD through a website called Inspot.
Planned Parenthood of Minnesota recognizes the effectiveness of evidenced-based and comprehensive sex education programs as a tool, “in delaying the initiation of sex, reducing the frequency of sex, reducing the number of sexual partners, and increasing condom and contraception use,” said Jennifer Aulwes, media relations director at Planned Parenthood. However, the role of the parents as educators can’t be undermined. Both Aulwes and Carr believe parents can play a key role in decreasing infection rates by ensuring they are an open source of accurate information.
Planned Parenthood has created a mother/daughter/son retreat for ages 10-12 that helps to establish parent-child connectedness in hopes of keeping the lines of communication open into adolescence and preventing negative outcomes. Parents may believe that schools are teaching comprehensive sex education, but there is no standardized sex education curriculum in Minnesota schools. This can leaves kids looking for gaps in information online or from friends. Aulwes encourages parents to be proactive, saying that, “every parent has the right to know exactly what the curriculum is that schools are using so that they can be sure their kids are getting what they need.”
Parents may also be surprised that 64 percent of all chlamydia cases are in the suburbs and greater Minnesota. This reinforces the importance of having discussions about sexuality and relationships at all social and economic levels. Doing so can develop a base for healthy and safe relationships in adolescence and into young adulthood. Teenwise, a Minnesota-based non-profit, has many resources to help parents to start this important discussion.
For more information about STDs, visit the CDC website.