Column, "Take Care of Yourself," by Haydeé Morales, Vice President of Education, Training, and Margaret Sanger Center International, Planned Parenthood of New York City, published in Spanish in El Diario (4/30/10)
There are some things that it makes sense to be afraid of: dangerous animals in the wild, standing close to the edge of a roof, or meeting your significant otherís parents for the first time.
Getting tested for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), however, is not one of them.
The facts are clear: one in two sexually active people will get a sexually transmitted disease (STD) by the age of 25 Ė and when so many STDs have little to no symptoms, most people wonít even know they have one.
This April has been STD awareness month, yet chances are youíve been putting off getting tested.
But not getting tested for an STD wonít mean you donít have one Ė it just means if you have one you wonít know about it. A number of STDs donít show immediate symptoms Ė including chlamydia, HPV, and HIV. So do yourself and everyone in your life a favor: donít let another day go by without getting tested.
Before you convince yourself that youíre not at risk, consider the facts. The most recent national estimates suggest that there are approximately 19 million new cases of STDs each year, half of them among young people aged 15 to 24, and that 65 million Americans have at least one viral STD, most commonly genital herpes. In New York City, the statistics are even higher. Our AIDS case rate is three times the national average Ė making New York the epicenter of the epidemic. Our rates of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and herpes are also far above the national average.
And as Latinos, we have to be especially careful. Among Latinas, the rate of gonorrhea infection is nearly twice as high as for non-Hispanic white women. The rate of chlamydia infection among Latinas is three times higher than among non-Hispanic white women. When chlamydia and gonorrhea are left untreated, they can lead to infertility and increase the risk of HIV infection. In fact, HIV/AIDS is the number four killer of Latinos aged 35Ė44 in the U.S.
Of course, getting tested is only part of the solution. We need to practice safe sex, and educate ourselves on how to stay safe and healthy. Did you know that New York City still does not require sex ed to be taught in schools Ė a fact thatís atrocious when you consider that about one in three young people in grades 9-12 currently report being sexually active, and nearly one in five report having had four or more sex partners so far in their lifetime. Only two-thirds of New York Cityís sexually active youth report using condoms at all, and one in five girls did not use any birth control the last time they had sex. Yes, in addition to taking care of our own health, we must have conversations about healthy decision making with our Latino/a boys and girls.
But one of the biggest components in staying healthy is getting tested. Many STDs are treatable Ė meaning the earlier they are detected, the earlier you can address them and the less serious they will become.
STD testing is safe and easy. Getting tested protects your health, and can even save your life. Itís time to start making sure you take care of yourself and those you love. Itís time to get yourself tested!