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Will Facebook pages help curb STD rates?

Category: Sexually Transmitted Diseases

Health officials have been working for years to determine the best way to encourage young people to protect themselves against sexually transmitted diseases, but it continues to be a struggle. Getting individuals under the age of 25 to utilize STD testing services and practice safer sex or abstinence has been a major goal in the healthcare community for years, since these individuals are responsible for half of all new STD infections each year. Recently, there has been a great deal of discussion about having more STD prevention efforts online, since young people seem to spend more time than ever on the Internet.

For example, The Journal Gazette, an Indiana news source, recently reported that the local health department has been crafting pages on Facebook that are designed to spread awareness of STDs among young people.

Information is key
According to the news source, gonorrhea rates increased 10 percent throughout northeast Indiana in 2012. Furthermore, the area experienced higher STD rates than average throughout the rest of Indiana, and the country as a whole. The Journal Gazette explained that in order to combat this problem, healthcare officials have been working on ways to educate young people about the very real dangers of these infections and viruses, since parents may sometimes be reluctant to do so.

"Adults don't want to think about their kids doing those kinds of things, and young people don't want to talk about it because it's embarrassing," Deborah McMahan, M.D., Allen County health commissioner, told the Journal Gazette. "It's really causing us to stretch at new ways to have the oldest conversation in the world."

In order to reach young people, the health department has created several Facebook pages. For example, there is the Talk About It page, which helps kids learn how to communicate about STDs. There's also Break the Silence, Remove the Stigma, which encourages gay and bisexual teens to use STD testing services and practice safer sex. Furthermore, the Be a Real Man page calls for teenage boys to be responsible and learn their STD status to avoid spreading an infection to others.

McMahan added that these Facebook pages alone may not be enough to encourage young people to learn their STD status and use protection or practice abstinence, parents need to become involved as well and talk to their kids. In fact, she pointed out that discussions about sex and STDs should probably come earlier than parents may even be comfortable with, since kids are starting to engage in sexual activity earlier than parents may realize.

"Parents need to know what their kids are doing," she told the Journal Gazette. "Kids are doing things earlier. Parents need to be told that if you don't talk to your kids, nobody will."

How effective is the online message?
While only time will tell whether putting STD information online will effectively reduce the number of young people with these infections, Facebook is certainly a medium with which teens are comfortable. According to the Digital Buzz Blog, as of 2011 one out of every 13 people in the world had a Facebook profile. Also, 48 percent of young Americans surveyed said that they get their news from Facebook, which means that they may view this website as a place not just for social interaction, but somewhere to get facts as well.

Parents who have trouble talking to their kids about sex may want to consider visiting the Indiana health department's Facebook pages as well, since it may give them the information they need to start a conversation in a way that both they and their kids will feel comfortable.

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