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Young People Underestimate STD Risks

Published on March 14th, 2017

STDs are on the rise among young people (ages 15-24) for a variety of reasons. Two of the contributing factors that increase the risk are alcohol consumption and lack of education about STDs and STD risks.

Studies show that women’s risk of having unprotected sex increases with the use of alcohol; for men, the use of alcohol does not have a significant impact on their likelihood to engage in high risk sexual practices (such as having unprotected sex with multiple partners). However, it is both men and women’s responsibility to make good choices when it comes to safe sex.

STDs present complicated health risk factors for women. Some STDs, such as chlamydia and gonorrhea, can lead to infertility if left untreated. If pregnant, women can also pass on STDs to their unborn children, either in utero or through the process of childbirth. HPV infections also increase women’s chances of developing different kinds of cancer, including cervical cancer.

However, while the health risks may be higher for women, it is important for both men and women to make responsible choices, even when under the influence of alcohol:

  1. Educate yourself: Take time to talk with your healthcare professional about STD testing and transmission as well as the proper use of prophylactics, such as condoms and dental dams. STDs do not discriminate based on age, gender, ethnicity, education, or wealth. Realize that you are at risk anytime you engage in sexual activity.
  2. Learn about consent: In many states, inebriated people cannot give legal consent to sexual activity. Alcohol is often used by sexual abusers to excuse their actions and shift the blame to victims. Both men and women should be aware of how alcohol impacts their judgement and make efforts to protect themselves. For instance, make sure you are with a trusted friend when you are drinking in public and never let your drink go unattended.
  3. Avoid binge-drinking: While binge-drinking is common among young people, this does not make it a healthy lifestyle choice. In addition to increasing the risk of sexual assault, binge-drinking can also lead to depression and other physical and mental health issues, increase the risk of having items stolen, and accidents (automobile or otherwise).

In rape culture, it becomes normalized to shift the blame for sexual assault to women, especially if they drink too much or wear clothing that is considered sexy or revealing. Thus, while there is a correlation between women’s alcohol consumption and increased risk behavior, this does not make them to blame for the transmission of STDs. Both sexual partners are responsible for making informed choices, which starts with sharing their STD status and ends with having informed, consensual safe sex.

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