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August 19, 2020

Discussing risky sex could cut STI rates significantly, new U.S. guidelines say

All sexually active teens and 'high risk' adults should receiving behavioral counseling, task force recommends

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Counseling for STIs Source/Image licensed from Ingram Images

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recently released updated guidelines on behavioral counseling for safer sex practices. Even short sessions of 30 minutes or less can help reduce STI rates.

Safe sex talk shouldn't be taboo, health experts say. So as Salt-N-Pepa eloquently put it in the 90s, "Let's Talk About Sex."

When doctors counsel sexually active teenagers and adults at high risk for sexually transmitted infections, the rates of STIs go down, according to the latest guidance by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force.

"Counseling interventions can actually potentially reduce the rate of sexually transmitted infection by about a third," task force member Melissa Simon, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine told NBC News.

There are about 20 million new cases of STIs in the U.S. each year and 50% of them are among people ages 15-24. 

The new guidelines call for all sexually active teenagers to receive behavioral counseling, as well as adults considered most at risk for STIs. That includes people who have had an STI within the last year, don't regularly use condoms, have multiple sex partners or a are part of a community with high STI rates. 

The task force has advocated for sexual health counseling in the past, recommending group counseling or multiple sessions that lasted as long as two hours each. It now says shorter, single sessions of 30 minutes or less also can be effective.

Any videos, text messages or websites that give instruction on how to use a condom or offer motivation for safer sex practices can be sent to the patient outside of the session, the updated guidelines state. Typically, the guidelines are updated every six to eight years.

Still, some experts warn that it is not enough to address risky sexual behavior in only those considered "high risk." Many STIs are found in adults who have only had one sexual partner in the previous six months.

The most recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report found the most common STIs in the U.S. are chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis. Philadelphia has the third-highest rate of sexually transmitted diseases in the United States.

When left untreated, STIs can lead to other health issues including cancer. That is why these counseling sessions are so important, experts say.

Chlamydia and gonorrhea are often asymptomatic. Chlamydia can cause infertility and pelvic inflammatory disease. Gonorrhea can cause infertility in men. Syphilis can lead to heart disease, blindness and even mental health issues.

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