Friday, March 14, 2008 | 2:07 a.m.
The results of a new study are distressing: 25 percent of U.S. women ages 14 to 19 are infected with at least one sexually transmitted disease.
The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tracked the occurrence nationally of the four most common sexually transmitted diseases chlamydia, genital herpes, trichomoniasis (a parasite) and the human papillomavirus (HPV), which can cause cancer.
The research shows that among black teenage girls, the infection rate is almost 50 percent, while among whites it is 20 percent.
John M. Douglas, director of the CDC’s division of sexually transmitted disease prevention, told The New York Times this week that these high infection rates especially among black teens “are clear signs that we must continue developing ways to reach those most at risk.”
The numbers also show that the Bush administration’s policy of promoting only those programs that teach abstinence as the sole prevention strategy isn’t working.
The consequences of these diseases can be severe. For example, HPV, which occurred most often, can cause cervical cancer and genital herpes. The others can lead to painful pelvic inflammatory disease, infertility or ectopic pregnancy, a sometimes fatal condition in which the fertilized egg implants itself outside the uterus.
There is a vaccine for HPV that the CDC recommends for all females ages 11 to 26. But there are those who oppose the vaccination on moral grounds, saying it encourages promiscuity.
This problem is too widespread and the potential outcomes are too severe to shut out prevention methods on such grounds. Parents must educate themselves and then, as difficult as it may seem, talk to their teenage girls and boys about the consequences of these diseases and how to avoid them.
Certainly, abstinence is the best way to avoid contracting one of these diseases, but teens also should be educated about safe sex practices. Teenagers are going to make mistakes, and they shouldn’t have to pay for them with their lives when there are preventive measures available.