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Sexually Transmitted Diseases in Adolescents

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Jul 4, 2022.

What is a sexually transmitted disease (STD)?

An STD means signs or symptoms of a sexually transmitted infection (STI) have developed. An STI happens when bacteria or a virus are spread through oral, genital, or anal sex. Some examples of STDs are HIV, chlamydia, syphilis, and gonorrhea.

What are the signs and symptoms of an STD?

One or more of the following may develop, depending on the STD:

  • Blisters, warts, sores, or a rash, in the mouth or genital area that may be painful
  • Discharge from the penis, vagina, or anus that may have a foul smell
  • Fever, muscle pain, or swollen lymph nodes in the groin
  • Inflammation and itching of the skin in the genital area
  • Pelvic or abdominal pain, or pain during sex or when urinating
  • Sore throat, mouth ulcers, or trouble swallowing
  • Vaginal bleeding or spotting after sex (females)

What increases the risk for an STD?

  • Unprotected sex
  • Immature immune system or cervix
  • Being female
  • Alcohol or illegal drug use
  • More than 1 sex partner
  • Open sores or cuts, such as body piercings
  • Not being vaccinated against certain STIs

How is an STD diagnosed?

Your adolescent's healthcare provider will examine him or her and ask about symptoms. He or she may ask about your adolescent's sex history or other medical conditions. He or she will ask if your adolescent ever had an STI or STD.

  • Blood and urine tests may show an infection and what kind it is.
  • A sample of discharge may be used to diagnose the STD.
  • A pelvic exam may be used to check a female's vagina, cervix, and other organs.

How is an STD treated?

Treatment depends on the STD. Antibiotics are given if the STD is caused by bacteria. Antivirals are given if it is caused by a virus. Antifungals may be given for a fungal infection, such as a yeast infection. Early treatment may decrease the risk for certain cancers. Early treatment can also help prevent infertility.

Treatment options

The following list of medications are in some way related to or used in the treatment of this condition.

How can my adolescent prevent the spread of an infection?

You or a healthcare provider should tell him or her the following:

  • Use a male or female condom during sex. This includes oral, genital, or anal sex. Use a new condom each time. Condoms help prevent pregnancy and STIs. Use latex condoms, if possible. Lambskin (also called sheepskin or natural membrane) condoms do not protect against STIs. A polyurethane condom can be used if there is an allergy to latex. Condoms should be used with a second form of birth control to help prevent pregnancy and STIs. Male and female condoms should not be used together.
  • Do not have sex with someone who has an STI or STD. This includes oral and anal sex.
  • Get screened for STIs regularly if sexually active. Common tests include chlamydia, gonorrhea, HIV, hepatitis, and syphilis. This will depend on your adolescent's age and other STI risk factors.
  • Talk to sex partners about STIs. Partners may need to be tested and treated. Tell your adolescent not to have sex while he or she is being treated for an STI. He or she should not have sex with a partner who is being treated.
  • Medicines can lower the risk for some STIs:
    • Vaccines can help protect against hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and the human papillomavirus (HPV). The HPV vaccine is usually given at 11 years, but it may be given through 26 years to both females and males. Healthcare providers can give you and your adolescent more information on vaccines to prevent STIs.
    • Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) may be given if your adolescent is at high risk for HIV. PrEP is taken every day to prevent the virus from fully infecting the body.

When should I seek immediate care for my adolescent?

  • He or she has severe abdominal or pelvic pain.
  • He or she has painful urination, genital swelling or pain, or unusual bleeding or discharge.
  • He or she has joint pain, a fever, rash, swollen lymph nodes, or night sweats.

When should I or my adolescent call the doctor?

  • He or she has a fever.
  • His or her symptoms do not go away or they get worse, even after treatment.
  • His or her partner has an STI.
  • She may be pregnant, or his female partner may be pregnant.
  • You have questions or concerns about his or her condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your child's care. Learn about your child's health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your child's healthcare providers to decide what care you want for your child. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.