The incidence of sexually transmitted Diseases (STDs) continues an upward trend in practically all population groups in Spain, but experts are particularly concerned about the situation among teenagers.
On the occasion of the European Day of Sexual Health celebrated on 14 February, the Spanish Association of Pediatrics (AEP) has warned that the incidence of sexually transmitted infections has doubled among adolescents while the resources to address sexual health are more and more limited.
According to the latest report from the Spanish National Epidemiology Center, between 2016 and 2019 the incidence of gonococcus, chlamydia and syphilis has doubled in young people aged 15 to 19 in Spain.
“These data are especially alarming in other STDs without a cure today, such as HIV infection. Adolescents constitute one of the few population groups worldwide in which a decrease in new diagnoses has not been achieved. In them, in addition, late diagnosis is a worrying reality, since it affects 30%," explains Doctor Cristina Epalza Ibarrondo, member of the HIV and STDs working group of the Spanish Society of Pediatric Infectious Diseases (SEIP).
Leaving aside the human papillomavirus, which is the most prevalent sexually transmitted infection in the world -and whose prevalence is estimated at between 50% and 60% two years after the start of sexual intercourse-, the most frequent STDs in adolescents are chlamydia and gonococcus.
“Around 30% of chlamydia diagnoses and 25% of gonococcus correspond to young people under 19 years of age, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC, its acronym in English) from the United States,” adds Dr. Epalza.
An issue that worries pediatricians is the lack of sex education. They are concerned about how little STDs and sexual health are discussed with teenagers, while the age of starting sexual relations decreases and access to sexual content, for example on the internet, increases.
Dr. Talía Sainz Costa, a pediatrician specialized in Infectious and Tropical Diseases, says that “adolescents, who are more vulnerable and easily influenced, receive sexual references that do not favor global sexual education, where respect for oneself and the other is transmitted and, therefore, being able to think about protecting oneself and the other (partner) from STDs”.
Risky sexual behavior
Dr. Félix Notario, president of the Spanish Society of Adolescent Medicine (SEMA), warns that more than 50% of adolescents between 14 and 17 years old regularly watch porn on the internet. This familiarizes them with risky practices and contributes to a "decontextualization of sexuality."
Risky sexual behavior not only lead to rise in STDs, but also unintended pregnancy, abuse and relationship frustration, pediatricians say.
Experts insist on the fundamental role played by pediatricians, families and schools in this regard and warn that sex education is still a pending issue in Spain.