I can just hear the wheels turning in the minds of kids who have just been seriously unsettled by the revelation that about 1 out of 4 sexually active teens will get an STD by the time they graduate high school. Occasionally someone will ask what the others are thinking: “But what if its the first time for both of them?” I give an honest answer, “Well, then they can’t get an STD.” But then I follow up with a couple of questions: “How do you know it’s someone’s first time…for SURE? Do you think people ever lie about their sexual pasts?” Sometimes they even figure that if the other person has only had one previous partner, that’s not too bad, and surely doesn’t pose much of a risk.
Many youth, and adults, assume that it’s a small group of promiscuous teens who are out there spreading nasty diseases, but that doesn’t appear to be an accurate analysis of what’s really going on. A study of sexual encounters at a midwestern high school showed a long chain linking many of the students. “Of about 1,000 students at the school, 832 were interviewed and asked to identify their sexual and romantic partners over the previous 18 months. Just more than half reported having sexual intercourse…. Of all the pairings, 63 involved two students who had not partnered with anyone else.” The article concluded that “Sharing of partners was rare, but many students were indirectly linked through one partner to another and another.” Can you get an STD the first time you are sexually active? You bet. This study clearly has implications for the spread of disease, and is another reason why an abstinence message is all the more critical to the health and well-being of our children.