Q: I'm 25, and I just broke up with my high-school boyfriend - the only guy I've ever been with. I've never had to worry about STDs, but I read they're epidemic in the U.S. Before I start dating again, what's your medical advice?
RANDI G., DELRAY BEACH, FLA.
It's true that sexually transmitted diseases are reaching epidemic proportions here and in Canada. But safe sex can be fun sex - if you're smart, with a loving partner, are both committed to each other's health and happiness and, of course, if you use condoms.
But first some facts: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says about 20 million new STD cases are reported annually, on top of the 110 million that already exist. They include everything from HIV and gonorrhea to chlamydia (very common, it can cause infertility if untreated; women should be tested for it annually) and trichomoniasis, the most common curable STD, caused by a parasite, it affects 3.7 million people, 70 percent without symptoms. It can lead to preterm births and make you more susceptible to HIV.
And then there's HPV, human papilloma virus, that's associated with cervical cancer in women and more rarely throat and penis cancer in men. It accounts for the majority of new infections.
Here's what you can do to protect yourself:
Get an HPV vaccine if you haven't contracted the virus already - it's usually covered by insurance for anyone up to age 26. Condoms don't completely protect against HPV or herpes, unfortunately. We suggest that those of you who are older than 26 and starting to date anew ask your doctor about getting the vaccine. Then have any new partner get tested for HIV; it's just smart.
Have an annual pelvic exam to check for STDs and bacterial vaginosis, which is caused by an imbalance of good and bad bacteria in the vagina.
Mehmet Oz, M.D., is host of "The Dr. Oz Show," and Mike Roizen, M.D., is chief medical officer at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute. To live your healthiest, visit sharecare.com. Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.