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Delaying Sex After First Period Reduces Chance of STDs

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WebMD Health News

March 27, 2000 (Arlington, Va.) -- The longer an adolescent girl waits to have sex after she has her first period, the less likely she is to get a variety of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). That conclusion comes from a new government-funded study presented here this week at the Annual Meeting of the Society for Adolescent Medicine.

Researchers from the Indiana University School of Medicine looked at more than 300 teenage women recruited from community health clinics. The adolescents were questioned about when they had their first period and how long they waited to have their initial sexual experience.

"The longer that interval is, the less risk of reporting an [sexually transmitted] infection," researcher Dennis Fortenberry, MD, a specialist in adolescent medicine at Indiana University, tells WebMD. The Indiana research was funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

While a small percentage had sex before their first period, most experienced their first period around age 12 and then postponed sex until they were about 15 years old. The average interval between the initial period and sex was about 2 1/2 years. But about one-third of those in the study had sex around age 13. Fortenberry says that right after the first period, sensitivity to disease is quite high but seems to diminish over time.

The data show that for many STDs, such as chlamydia and herpes, there was a 200% reduction in risk for each year of delay between the first period and the first sexual experience. Gonorrhea infections also followed a similar pattern.

"I do have a concern that this would be taken into a fear-based message about sexual behavior, and I wouldn't like that," says Fortenberry. Instead, he says physicians and parents need to convince teenagers that it is important to wait as long as possible before becoming sexually active.

Counseling teens about sex by both physicians and parents is definitely needed. Another study released at the meeting looked at how much young people know about sex and STDs. Researchers at the University of Alabama School of Medicine in Birmingham (UAB) gave about 60 teenagers a questionnaire to gauge their sexual IQs, and they were appalled.

"The level of knowledge generally that these kids have with regard to STDs is pretty poor," lead researcher Jeanne Merchant, MPH, tells WebMD. For instance, most thought HIV was the most common STD in the U.S., ignoring chlamydia, the correct answer. Another misunderstanding -- getting an STD is likely to produce an obvious symptom.

The researchers emphasize that teens need to be taught to ask their questions early and not wait until they are already infected with a STD. "Without scaring them, they need to get the facts [about STDs]," says M. Kim Oh, MD, an adolescent medicine physician at UAB, who is on the research team.

What grade would the scientists give the teens for their knowledge of STDs? No higher than a "D." And that's their final answer.

Vital Information:

  • According to new research, the more time between a girl's first period and her first sexual experience, the less likely she is to contract an STD.
  • In a separate study, researchers found that adolescents don't know much about STDs, including which is the most common and whether or not they will have symptoms.
  • Physicians and parents should educate children on STD risks.

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