Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are common among youth in the U.S., with about 10 million new cases each year in young people between the ages of 15-24. In addition, young gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men (MSM) are at higher risk for STIs, including HIV. Having an STI puts youth at higher risk of getting and transmitting HIV.

What is the difference between STIs and STDs?

STIs are usually spread through sexual activity with someone who is infected. An infection is when a bacteria, virus, or parasite enters and grows in or on a person's body. STIs are also referred to as sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). The term STI is more encompassing and technically more accurate than STD because some infections are curable and may not cause any symptoms. If the infection results in signs or symptoms (changes in the body's typical function), then it is called a disease.

The most common STIs include (in alphabetical order):

How are STIs spread?

STIs can spread even if there are no signs or symptoms. The most common ways STIs spread are by:

  • Having anal, vaginal, or oral sex without a condom with someone who has an STI
  • Genital touching without penetration with someone who has an STI (e.g., genital herpes or syphilis)

STIs often have no symptoms, so it is important for youth to use a condom every time and get tested for STIs if they have ever been sexually active in the past.

STIs can also spread from a pregnant or breastfeeding woman to her baby. In the past, STIs, such as HIV, were spread through blood transfusions or organ/tissue transplants. The U.S. blood supply is now among the safest in the world and the risks of transplant-related infection are low.

CDC infographic of disproportionate burden of STIs among youth

Why are adolescents at higher risk for STIs?

According to CDC, adolescents are at higher risk for acquiring STIs due to a number of unique factors:

  • Insufficient screening: some young people don't get the recommended tests.
  • Confidentiality concerns: many youth are hesitant to talk openly and honestly with a health care provider about their sex lives.
  • Biology: young women's bodies are more susceptible to STIs.
  • Lack of access to health care: many youth do not have health insurance or transportation to a clinic or testing site.
  • Multiple sex partners: some young people have more than one sex partner.
Infographic Resource

This CDC infographic shows the impact, causes, and consequences of STIs among young people.

Why are young MSM at higher risk for STIs?

 According to CDC, young MSM are at high risk for STIs, including HIV. This is primarily because they may practice anal sex, and the rectal mucosa is uniquely susceptible to certain infections. In addition, substance use and the sexual network dynamics of MSM increase risk for STIs in this population.

Youth HIV Facts

STIs put youth at higher risk of HIV. High rates exist among U.S. youth, especially young people of color.
Source: 
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

What is the best way to prevent STIs?

When educating youth, remind them of the following ways they can prevent STIs :

  • Choose not to engage in sexual activity.
  • Use a condom correctly every time you have sex.
  • Choose to only have sex with one person who agrees to only have sex with you and get tested before having sex.
  • Get the HPV vaccine as it prevents the most common STI and can help avoid HPV-related health issues like genital warts and some cancers.
  • Talk with your sex partner(s) about STIs and safe sex before having sex.
  • Get tested.
Tool Resource

This free tool from HIV.gov, in English or Spanish, can be used to look up HIV testing sites, housing assistance, health centers, HIV care, mental health services, substance abuse services, and family planning services by zip code.

Page last updated: April 2017