Teenagers are at a phase where they are curious about their bodies.

Their raging hormones may sometimes lead them to engage in sexual activities without considering the consequences.

This may leave them vulnerable to sexually-transmitted diseases (STDs), not to mention unwanted pregnancies.

STDs are diseases transmitted from one person to another through unsafe sexual contact (via vaginal, anal or oral sex).

Teaching your teens about STDs should be part of their sex education. Start educating them as early as possible about the risk of STDs.

Warning signs

More than 25 STDs that are caused by bacteria or viruses have been identified.

In the early stages, most STDs may show no symptoms. Hence, the best way to be sure that one is free from STDs is by getting tested.

Symptoms for each STD vary.

In general, your teens should see a doctor right away if there is unusual discharge from their genitals that is yellow, grey or green in colour, and is smelly.

Sores or rashes, as well as genital or abdominal pain, are other early signs of STDs that your teens have to look out for.

Some STDs have distinct symptoms. For example, syphilis comes with swollen lymph glands and painless sores in the genital area that spread to the palms or soles in later stages.

Meanwhile, gonorrhoeal infection can also happen in other parts of the body, resulting in a sore throat, anal discharge or painful bowel movement.

Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection causes itchy warts on the genital area (including the vagina, anus and cervix).

Most HPV infections do not show any symptoms, but are linked to cervical cancer in the long term.

Some people may have flu-like symptoms the first time they get infected with HIV (human immunodeficiency virus), but after several years, it will develop into AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome).

Some STDs like chlamydia and gonorrhoea can be cured, but viral STDs like herpes and HIV cannot be fully cured – medicines can be taken to mediate the symptoms, but precautions need be taken while having sex to prevent passing on the infection.

For women, some untreated STDs can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, which causes chronic pain in the pelvic area and the inability to conceive.

Untreated syphilis and HIV can be fatal at the later stages.Teenagers, sex, STDs, sexual health, Star2.com

Reducing risk

Sex education is the first necessary step in prevention. Parents can introduce this topic gradually to their children.

Start from as early as the preschool age by teaching them about private parts and safe touch. As they grow up, discuss more advanced topics appropriate to their age.

This may be a sensitive topic in our society, but parents have to break the taboo and be open to their children.

The surest way of prevention is to practice abstinence – no sexual intercourse and no intimate sexual contact.

Teach your teens to say “no” to harmful activities, such as using drugs and alcohol, which can lead to unsafe sex.

Educate them about honour, consent and respecting another person’s right to refuse intimate contact.

In a relationship, there is no such thing as “If you love me, you’ll do it with me”.

Partners should not have to prove their love by doing something that they are not comfortable with, including having sex.

Other ways to reduce the risk of STDs are by using condoms correctly (e.g. never using expired condoms and using the condom from start to the finish of sexual intercourse), ensuring that you and your partner are STD-free through testing, and avoiding having multiple sex partners.

Vaccines can also help prevent two STDs: hepatitis B and HPV. Both of these are included in our National Immunisation Programme.

The hepatitis B vaccine is given during infancy, while the HPV vaccine is given to girls when they are 13 years old.

Boys may also get the HPV vaccine at their own request. However, vaccines to prevent other STDs are yet to be developed.

Knowledge is power

Empower your teens to be responsible for their bodies. Sexual health is important knowledge, not just for preventing unwanted pregnancies, but also to prevent STDs.

Begin sexual education from young to prevent bad consequences when they are older. Having an STD can be a traumatic experience.

Remember that not all STDs can be treated and the effect can be fatal.

Prevention is better than cure.

Dr Nazeli Hamzah is a consultant paediatrician and Malaysian Association for Adolescent Health president. This article is courtesy of the Malaysian Paediatric Association’s Positive Parenting programme in collaboration with expert partners. For further information, please email starhealth@thestar.com.my. The
information provided is for educational and communication purposes only and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. Information published in this article is not intended to replace, supplant or augment a consultation with a health professional regarding the reader’s own medical care. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.