ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) — Doctors don’t have to tell 18-year-old “Rose” (who doesn’t want to reveal her real name) the importance of using a condom every time she has sex.
STDs can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, which can result in infertility, said Dr. Yolanda Wimberly, left.
“There really is a limit to how much you can trust somebody,” the young woman said.
At 14, Rose contracted two sexually transmitted diseases: gonorrhea and chlamydia. She said she got the STDs from her first boyfriend.
“We used condoms at first. Then, me being naïve, we stopped,” Rose recalled. “I thought he was only having sex with me.”
The STDs went untreated and eventually developed into pelvic inflammatory disease, or PID, a condition that can lead to infertility.
Dr. John Douglas, director of the Centers for Disease Control’s Division of STD Prevention, called infertility a “down-the-road concern” for many teens.
He and other doctors worry about sexually active teenagers and young adults who may be unaware that some STDs may doom their chances of having a baby later in life.
He said it is a growing reality for nearly 2 million women in the United States who are infertile.
“We don’t know how many are affected by STDs, but they can cause PID. A woman [with PID] has a 10 to 20 percent chance of being left infertile,” Douglas said.
Dr. Yolanda Wimberly, an adolescent medicine specialist with Grady Health Systems in Atlanta, Georgia, explained that PID can damage the reproductive organs by creating scarring and inflammation in the fallopian tubes.
“It can happen to anyone. It does not discriminate,” Wimberly said, referring to both the chances of contracting an STD and the potential for infertility.
Three days a week, she meets with teens and young adults at a health clinic just west of downtown Atlanta. Many of them have one thing in common: a lack of awareness about the dangers of STDs.
Wimberly first met Rose when the girl was hospitalized four years ago during her bout with PID.
“It had become a severe infection. … She was having difficulty keeping anything down,” the doctor recalled.
“It hurt so bad. It felt like somebody kept stabbing me in my stomach. I couldn’t walk or anything,” Rose said.
Doctors treated her with intravenous antibiotics. Both the STDs and PID cleared up.
Then, a year later, when she was 15, Rose was diagnosed with another type of STD called human papillomavirus, the leading cause of cervical cancer.
Doctors removed some abnormal cells from her cervix, which could lead to pregnancy complications in the future.
Rose recovered, and she said she hasn’t had any problems in three years, but questions remain about her future ability to have a child.
“I cry sometimes thinking about it, because I want it, but I’m not positive if it can happen,” said Rose, who dreams of becoming a mother.
Wimberly tried to reassure Rose by telling her having PID does not automatically lead to infertility.
“But it can decrease your chances of becoming pregnant in the future,” Wimberly told her.
Wimberly is reluctant to put young, at-risk women through intensive and expensive fertility testing. Rather, she recommends that when they are older and the time is right, they first attempt to conceive a child on their own.
In the meantime, Wimberly said, she walks a fine line as she deals with her patients’ immediate needs, be they birth control, disease prevention or sex education.
Wimberly cautions couples to always protect themselves during sex by using a condom every time.
She also tells young men and women to get checked by a doctor for STDs every six months or every time they change sexual partners.
Finally, Wimberly urges parents to get involved in the discussion and not to be afraid to talk to their teens about the dangers of unprotected sex and the possibility of becoming infertile.
Rose conceded that she learned the hard way.
“I want people to learn from my mistakes so they won’t have to go through the same things I went through,” she said.
She recently graduated from high school and, prompted by her own health scare, hopes to become a nurse.
Rose also has a new boyfriend and says they “always use protection, no matter what.”
“You might be in love and trust someone … but be smart, think ‘what if.’ Think for yourself,” she said.
I think this article is really telling about our mindset when it comes to teenagers and sex. Let’s asses the damage done to Rose’s body by contracting three STD’s by age 15, not to mention the emotional and mental damage done to her as a 14 year old when she “naively thought” that her boyfriend “was only sleeping with her.” Well Rose, you better think again, because in these United States you’re a naive dreamer (or at best delusional), whether you’re 15 or 50, if you expect your boyfriend to sleep with only you. Forget a committment, you’re lucky just to be one in the rotation. But just ignore your uterus that’s infected, your two STD’s, and the distinct possibility that even if you want to, you may never have children, because guess what Rose, you’re liberated!
Another thing I found particularly interesting in this article is the “deep concern” that this doctor and presumably others like her have for these young women. Armed with the knowledge that 14 and 15 year olds are having intercourse with men who have multiple partners, and armed with the “sad” fact that “the names and faces change but the story is the same” for these young women, her most profound piece of advice is…use a condom! Regardless of how you feel about condoms and contraception in and of itself, it’s interesting to note that this doctor who is “deeply concerned” doesn’t pause for one moment to even ask these girls if they are happy with the choices they are making, or to suggest in passing that perhaps being 14 and having sex with a man who is sleeping with four other women may in fact not be in the best interests of this particular young woman. Who benefits more from this situation; Rose, with injuries to her body and emotions that no woman should ever be subject to, or her “boyfriend” who, other than having to replace one of his rotation, has lost nothing?
It seems as though no one has paused to consider the radical notion that 14 and 15 and 20 and 25 and 30 year old women deserve better than to just be one of many in some man’s sexual rolodex. It seems to this casual observer that somewhere in the midst of women’s liberation it’s men who have ended up dictating the terms.