STD Testing: Information for Parents of Adolescents

Parents play an important role in helping adolescents become healthy and happy adults

Parents are a trusted source of health information and can help prepare adolescents for developing healthy relationships and navigating challenges that may lie ahead.1 Talking regularly with your adolescent and paying attention to where they are and who they are with can help reduce unhealthy behaviors.2,3 Most adolescents report talking about health topics with parents, including sexual and reproductive health. To prepare for these conversations, parents need to know about options for preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), including HIV. In addition, it is important that parents know about key preventive health services.

In addition to unintended pregnancy, young people who choose to be sexually active are at risk of getting an STD. Half of all new STDs each year are among young people aged 15-244 and its estimated that one in four sexually active adolescent females has an STD, such as chlamydia or human papillomavirus (HPV).5 . Many young people do not know they are infected because STDs often have no symptoms. For additional information about STDs, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) STD website.

Sexually active young people can protect themselves from getting an STD in a number of ways including consistently and correctly using condoms and getting tested for STDs.6 Getting tested for STDs is important because it is the only way to know if someone has an STD and needs treatment. The recommendations below are specifically for adolescents, describing which STDs young people should be routinely tested for, who should be tested, and when they should be tested. Action steps are provided to help parents make sure their adolescent receives the best sexual and reproductive health care possible.

Why should adolescents be tested for STDs?

Many STDs don’t cause any symptoms so the only way to know for sure if you have an STD is to get tested. Some curable STDs can be dangerous if they aren’t treated. For example, if left untreated, chlamydia and gonorrhea can make it difficult—or even impossible—for a woman to get pregnant later in life. The chances of getting HIV if you have an untreated STD also increases. Some STDs, like HIV, can be fatal if left untreated.7

What STD tests are recommended for adolescents?

A healthcare provider can help determine if STD testing is recommended for your adolescent and which STD tests are most appropriate. A healthcare provider can also give more information about each type of test.

There are several recommendations for STD testing specifically focused on sexually active female adolescents and adults younger than age 25. These include:8,9

Chlamydia testing

All sexually active women younger than age 25 should be tested for chlamydia each year. Sexually active men younger than age 25 in areas with a high number of chlamydia cases among males should also be tested each year. Your adolescent’s healthcare provider should know what is recommended in your area. In addition, all men, 13 years and older, who have sex with other men should also be tested each year.

Gonorrhea testing

All sexually active women younger than age 25 should be tested for gonorrhea each year. All men, 13 years and older, who have sex with other men should also be tested each year. Typically, anyone testing for chlamydia is tested for gonorrhea at the same time.

Syphilis testing

Men, 13 years and older, who have sex with men should be tested each year.

HIV testing

Men, 13 years and older, who have sex with men, people who inject drugs, and people who have a partner with HIV should be tested for HIV at least once a year. Others may also need to be tested if their healthcare provider thinks that they may be at higher risk.

Pregnant women

At their first prenatal visit, pregnant women should be tested for chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, and HIV. For syphilis, retesting early in the third trimester is recommended for women who are at high risk, live in areas with a high number of syphilis cases or who tested positive in the first trimester. For HIV, retesting in the third trimester is recommended for women at high risk of acquiring HIV.

Where can adolescents get tested for STDs?

STD testing is typically available from healthcare providers and at select outreach events. Your teen’s school may also provide testing on site or resources for where to find testing locations. This STD Testing Locator provides nearby testing locations, including those that offer free or low-cost services.

Where can I get more information about STD testing for adolescents?

What are steps parents can take to help their adolescents?

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    Support adolescent healthcare seeking and follow-up. You play an important role in helping your adolescent regularly access quality healthcare. For example, you can help your adolescent find a healthcare provider they are comfortable with, schedule appointments, and/or provide or access transportation to the clinic. Parents can also help their adolescent fill prescriptions and take medications correctly.

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    Talk with your adolescent. Talking about sex, relationships, and the prevention of HIV, STDs, and pregnancy may not always be comfortable or easy, but you can encourage your teen to ask questions. Be prepared to give fair and honest answers. This will help keep open communication. You can tell your teen that the decision to be sexually active comes with the responsibility to keep yourself and your partner safe. Some young people may decide to postpone becoming sexually active until they feel ready to handle this responsibility. Explain to your adolescent about the range of health services they should discuss or receive when they go to the doctor and why the health services are important. Make sure they are aware of the importance of STD testing.

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    Prepare for your adolescent’s independence. It is important that adolescents have opportunities to seek health care with some independence in order to be prepared to do so as an adult. As a first step, your adolescent should have one-on-one time with their provider routinely, where you step out of the room.10 Let them know early on that as they get older they will begin to have this one-on-one time so that they will be prepared to ask questions and talk openly and honestly. Encourage your adolescent to ask about sexual and reproductive health services when they have one-on-one time with their provider. As your adolescent gets older, they may go to the doctor and make decisions about services, including STD testing, on their own. Adolescents can consent to STD testing in all 50 statesexternal icon and the District of Columbia, with some variation in the age at which this is allowed. Preparing yourself for these transitions, which are a normal part of adolescent development, can help make them easier for both of you and your adolescent.

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    Stay informed.Be aware of the quality of the health information your adolescent is receiving from school, friends, online, or other sources. Your adolescent may not be receiving complete or accurate information from these sources. Be available to answer any questions that they may have. The more you know about health topics and services the easier it will be to talk with your adolescent about them.

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    Work with your adolescent’s healthcare providerYou and your adolescent’s healthcare provider can work together as a team with the shared goal of improving your adolescent’s health. You can let the healthcare provider know that you are supportive of your adolescent receiving recommended health services, including those for preventing HIV, other STDs, and unintended pregnancy. You can also ask your adolescent’s healthcare provider to tell you more about newer services or those that you may be less familiar with, such as long-acting reversible contraception, also referred to as LARC or HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (or PrEP), which is taking daily medicine to prevent HIV.

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    Seek out resourcesResources are available to help you take these action steps. For example, the Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine’s mobile app THRIVEexternal icon can help you talk with your adolescent about health and track health care visits. The American Academy of Pediatrics has a website called Healthy Childrenexternal icon that includes information for parents about adolescent health services. Also, CDC has information to help parents talk with their teenpdf icon and support one-on-one time between a teen and their health providerpdf icon.

References
  1. Ackard DM, Neumark-Sztainer D. Health care information sources for adolescents: age and gender differences on use, concerns, and needs. J Adolesc Health. 2001;29(3):170-176.
  2. Dittus PJ, Michael SL, Becasen JS, Gloppen KM, McCarthy K, Guilamo-Ramos V. Parental Monitoring and Its Associations With Adolescent Sexual Risk Behavior: A Meta-analysis. Pediatrics. 2015;136(6):e1587-1599.
  3. Widman L, Choukas-Bradley S, Noar SM, Nesi J, Garrett K. Parent-Adolescent Sexual Communication and Adolescent Safer Sex Behavior: A Meta-Analysis. JAMA Pediatr. 2016;170(1):52-61.
  4. Satterwhite CL, Torrone E, Meites E, et al. Sexually transmitted infections among US women and men: Prevalence and incidence estimates, 2008. Sex Transm Dis. 2013;40(3):187–193.
  5. Forhan SE, Gottlieb SL, Sternberg MR, et al. Prevalence of sexually transmitted infections among female adolescents aged 14 to 19 in the United States. Pediatrics. 2009;124(6):1505–1512.
  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC Fact Sheet: Information for Teens and Young Adults: Staying Healthy and Preventing STDs.
  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC Fact Sheet: Information for Teens and Young Adults: Staying Healthy and Preventing STDs. 2014.
  8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Screening Recommendations and Considerations Referenced in Treatment Guidelines and Original Sources. 2015.
  9. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. HIV Testing. 2019.
  10. Hagan JF, Shaw JS, Duncan PM, eds. Bright Futures: Guidelines for Health Supervision of Infants,Children, and Adolescents. 4th ed. Elk Grove Village, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics; 2017