An army of 20 “Sex Troops” from Willow Teen Health Services patrolled Ingham County’s middle and high schools last year, educating youths about the pitfalls of unprotected sex.

Primarily consisting of Michigan State University students, the unit sends adolescents through basic training in hopes of stifling their plans to engage in sexual activity.

With reports of sexually transmitted infections rising by the year among 15-24 year-olds, casualties in the war on sexual diseases are mounting.

Bree Anderson, program specialist with the Willow Teen Health Services Peer Education Program, said it’s vital that young people are informed about the consequences of promiscuity as soon as possible.

She believes young people, namely high school and college students, carry a false aura of invincibility that desensitizes them to the consequences of their actions.

“Statistically they partake in riskier behaviors,” Anderson said. “They have a feeling of invincibility that leads to poor choices in regards to health. It can be a huge issue for adolescents. Sometimes they don’t make as good of choices as they could.”

The “troops” in Peer Education Program serve as mentors to young people and conduct workshops throughout the county.

One of the most prevalent sexually transmitted infections among young adults is Chlamydia.

41,291 cases of Chlamydia were recorded in Michigan in 2007, an 8.2 percent increase from the 38,142 reports in 2006, according to data from the Michigan Department of Community Health.

When compared to 1998’s Chlamydia figures, reports skyrocketed 87 percent.

People having unprotected sex with multiple partners is the primary reason why the rates of sexually transmitted infections thrive year after year, said Kristine Judd, administrative program manager with the Michigan Department of Community Health’s Sexually Transmitted Disease Section.

“Chlamydia and gonorrhea rates among young people are significantly higher than other groups,” Judd said. “Further, young women are disproportionately affected. Young women are more physiologically susceptible than adult women because their cervix is immature.”

The physiological susceptibility of young women is apparent when examining sexual infection data.
In 2007, women between the ages of 15-24 accounted for 24,294 of the 41,291 Chlamydia reports, or 58 percent, according to the Michigan Department of Community Health.

Meanwhile, only 6,516 women age 25 and above were diagnosed with Chlamydia, or 15 percent of the total cases.

Chlamydia numbers among young men registered at a much lower rate in 2007 with 6,056 reports.
Anderson suspects the drastically higher number of Chlamydia cases for young females are due to the frequency of medical examinations.

Girls visit their gynecologist at early ages and are diagnosed that way, while boys don’t require such detailed physical examinations, Anderson said.

“Girls have to go in a lot sooner,” Anderson said. “The occurrence rate might not be that different. I just think the reporting rates are higher.”

The consistent increase of sexually transmitted infections such as gonorrhea among youths can be deterred if parents enlighten their children about sexual responsibility, said Erica Phillipich, coordinator for the Center for Sexual Health Promotion at Olin Health Center.

Phillipich said the entire nation is suffering from a lack of communication when it comes to sexual health.
“As a nation, we are not sexually healthy,” Phillipich said. “We don’t talk about sexuality or relationships at home or in school, yet we expect young people to know about them and never fail. Responsibility to educate our youth starts at home and should be a continued conversation over the course of life — not a onetime deal.”

Once young people find out they have a sexually transmitted infection, the psychological blow can overwhelm them.

A diagnosis creates a mental burden that ruins their self-esteem, Judd said.

“There is definitely a stigma associated with being diagnosed with a STD, including HIV,” Judd said. “This can make any individual, particularly young people feel dirty and unattractive. It can also result in difficulty with disclosure and can affect how they choose their future partners.”

Anderson hopes her “Sex Troops” continue to influence young people before they put themselves in unhealthy sexual situations that could have “traumatic” results.

“There’s a complete misunderstanding of sexually transmitted infections,” Anderson said. “There’s a total lack of knowledge and people don’t know what they’re talking about. Education is absolutely huge for preventing heartaches for people.”