The HIV epidemic in the United States is increasingly becoming an epidemic of the young. One-fourth of all new HIV infections in the United States occur in people under the age of 22; one-half of all new infections occur in people under age 25.
Every year, three million teens (nearly 1 in 4 sexually experienced teens) will contract a sexually transmitted infection (STI). Chlamydia, for instance, is more common among teens than among older men and women. Teens also have higher rates of gonorrhea than men and women aged 20-44. Statistics show that children and teens are engaging in sexual contact of some type at younger and younger ages.
Good parent-child communication on sensitive topics such as sex and HIV can greatly enhance the value of prevention messages to youth; yet teens can have difficulty talking with adults about such issues. Teens need to know that intercourse is not the only sexual activity that carries risks. Aside from pregnancy, oral sex or sexual touching carry the same dangers for contracting STIs as intercourse, including the incurable herpes virus, which often is passed on while the infected person has no outward symptoms. It is also important to note that birth control pills or injections do not protect either partner from STIs, and they are only effective in preventing pregnancy when they are used as directed.
Abstinence from sexual contact and protection from bodily fluids (for example, through the use of condoms) are the two best ways teens can keep safe from STIs; however, only abstinence is 100 percent effective. Education is the key to safe sexual choices for teens, and parents are the primary educators.