By Camilla Hope, Let’s Write About Sex Education Fellow at Jane’s Due Process & Austin Bat Cave
As I placed my lunchbox on the cafeteria table, my best friend burst into tears (let’s call her Casey). I followed Casey to the bathroom to ask what’s wrong. She told me she was intimate with her older brother’s friend and was scared that she had contracted a sexually transmitted infection because Casey knew her sexual partner had recently tested positive for chlamydia but he wouldn’t tell her whether he’d been tested before or after they had sex. Casey was terrified and her journey toward a resolution was difficult: something has to be done to ensure teens can get tested!
Some of our friends advised Casey to go to Walgreens because of some locations test for STI’s. But the pharmacist at Casey’s local Walgreens told her they couldn’t test her at that location, so she went to the next closest place: Planned Parenthood. After looking on their website, Casey was unclear as to whether Planned Parenthood would serve a minor, but she was desperate to try. While Casey waited in line for her turn, she looked around at the people in the Planned Parenthood waiting room and she felt ashamed and embarrassed that she was the youngest person there. When it was her turn, Casey asked the woman behind the desk if they offered STI testing. The woman responded with yes, but that it would be easier if Casey brought a parent with her. For Casey, that wasn’t an option. Without a parent’s approval, Casey was asked to wait until 3 o’clock for the next opening, but Casey had to be home by then. My friend went home that afternoon feeling defeated and with no idea when she’d be able to try again for an appointment. Two months later, Casey still hadn’t been to the doctor for an STI screening.
I know Casey isn’t the only teenager that has wanted to be tested but hasn’t been given the option. The CDC recommends that all sexually active women under 25 should be tested annually for chlamydia and gonorrhea, but when surveyed, 49 percent of the young women respondents said their doctor or nurse had never asked them if they wanted STD testing. To add to that, in Texas (where Casey and I are high school students) sexually transmitted infections are rising, following a national trend where the CDC documented an increase of more than 100,000 cases of STI’s from confirmed cases in 2018.
We can fight the STD epidemic by educating younger people about their testing options. Thinking that you may have a disease or infection is already nerve-wracking, so the last thing that you should have to think about is getting in trouble at home, or worse, not getting treatment. If you are worried about your parents finding out, the easiest way to make sure it stays a secret is by not telling anyone but this is also the most dangerous and fatal way to go about things. You need a doctor’s help, just like Casey. It was extremely overwhelming for my friend to go into multiple clinics, not knowing what to expect. No teen should ever feel that level of uncertainty and fear. This is why we need to have trusted information at our fingertips. One of the best ways that we can get information out is by having posters on school bulletin boards or bathrooms.
These informational posters will tell teens how to locate the closest Planned Parenthood and book an appointment. By calling ahead, you can make sure that you are prioritized over walk-ins. Planned Parenthood can also put you on a fund so you don’t have to use insurance. It is 100% nonjudgmental and confidential, as your parents won’t know. If you test positive for an STI, they can provide medication. I think that if we can remove the stigma around STIs, and replace it with trusted information, we will be a safer community.
Everyone has a job, and everyone can help. Adults, vote for candidates at the School Board of Education who support medically accurate sex education in our public schools. Parents may not be comfortable with sex-ed, but it’s not about a parent’s comfort, it’s about teen safety. Another way adults can help out is by donating to Planned Parenthood or federally funded clinics that receive Title X because these clinics serve young people and are at the highest risk of receiving budget cuts. Teenagers, we have to tell the adults what we need. Tell them that we, as teens, deserve to know how to keep ourselves safe. STDs lurk in the shadows, covered by shame and fear; it’s easy to forget they even exist. Otherwise, people like Casey may not know how to protect themselves, or even know what an STD is until it’s too late.
If you have concerns about your sexual and reproductive health, our volunteer advocates are available 24/7 at 866-999-5263 and by text 8am-11pm CT to support you. Please don’t hesitate to contact us if you need help accessing birth control, STI testing & treatment, or abortion in Texas.