A recent study published in the “Journal of the American Medical Association” revealed that 1 in 4 American girls between the ages of 14 and 19 has a sexually transmitted disease, totaling more than three million teens nationwide.
Rita Audlehelm, director of health services, read the article about the study soon after it came out.
“I was shocked by this study,” Audlehelm said, “I am definitely not na’ve about sexual activity, but I was still shocked.”
Freshman Anna Holley is a member of Sophia, a group on campus that focuses on women’s issues.
“I think this is not only scary but also disappointing,” Holley said. “Clearly there is a lack of awareness and education among young adults about this very serious matter.”
Although the findings are quite upsetting, Audlehelm cautions readers against panicking or jumping to conclusions.
“Whenever people see a study like this, they need to know who did the research, what group was studied and how researchers arrived at their conclusions,” Audlehelm said. “When people look at data that seems so scary, they should not panic. Instead, they should take the information and learn from it.”
This particular study was conducted by the Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in a 2003-2004 government health survey. 838 teenage girls between the ages of 14 and 19 participated in the study, and analysts believe that the group is a valid representation of teenage girls currently living in the United States.
In the study, girls were tested for four infections; human papillomavirus, chlamydia, trichomoniasis, and herpes.
Although this study deals only with women, STD’s are not just a female problem. According to the American Social Health Association, 65 million people currently living in the United States have an STD, and over 19 million new cases are added each year.
With figures like this, it is easy to panic, but steps are being taken, even here at Simpson, to prevent the spread of STD’s.
The primary focus of STD prevention on Simpson’s campus is education. Audlehelm works to get information out about sexual health and reproductive health at every opportunity, for instance, when the campus has wellness promotions.
Although the campus can perform no screenings here, Audlehelm is available to help with recognizing symptoms. She can also help students get appointments with private clinics, Planned Parenthood, or the Warren County Department of Public Health. These alternate locations are readily equipped to diagnose and treat many STD’s.
One location, the Warren County Department of Public Health, has a clinic in Indianola. The clinic provides HPV vaccines, gonorrhea and chlamydia screening and treatment, and HIV and AIDS screening.
Planned Parenthood, another clinic, has four locations in the Des Moines area. These locations provide education about STD’s and offers testing and treatment for more than 15 STDs including herpes, HPV, Hepatitis B, syphilis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia. The organization also is able to do testing for HIV and AIDS.
Planned Parenthood and the Warren County Department of Public Health are not just for women, either. These same services of testing and treatment are also available to men. Both the Warren County Department of Public Health and Planned Parenthood offer confidential treatment and diagnoses and are typically less expensive than private clinics. These sites also both focus on educating people about sexually transmitted diseases; a method that Holley feels is essential to preventing them.
“Learning about STD’s is imperative,” Holley said. “Sex education in high school should be mandatory. Teaching teenagers about the contraction of these sometimes deadly diseases and how to use protection will drastically help.”
Sophomore Miranda Knake also feels that education about STDs is necessary.
“A lack of knowledge about the contraction of STD’s exists,” Knake said, “For example, people need to know that contracting something like herpes from oral sex, from mouth to genitals or vice-versa, is possible. Also, the ‘it won’t happen to me’ attitude runs rampant among the masses. People need to know that it can happen to anyone.”
Audlehelm understands the stigma associated with sexually transmitted diseases.
“This is a pretty sensitive area, and information like this scares people,” Audlehelm said, “People come in all the time with strep throat or other viruses, but because these problems are sexual, people find them more upsetting and don’t talk about them as much.”