Background: Adolescents learn about sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) from many sources, yet little is known about how well these educational sources are teaching them about STDs.
Goal: The goal was to assess basic knowledge about STDs and their prevalence, to determine the correlates of high STD knowledge levels, and to explore whether self-perceptions of STD knowledge correlated with knowledge test scores.
Study Design: A convenience sample of adolescents from waiting areas in an urban children's hospital were asked by peer educators about their STD education, the sources of this education, and their self-perception of their STD knowledge. They then were given a short assessment testing their knowledge of major, incurable, and curable STDs.
Results: In the 393 surveys collected from adolescents aged 12 to 21 years (mean [±SD] age, 16.9 ± 1.8 years), 97% self-reported having been educated about STDs, and the reported major sources were school (70%), parents (52%), and friends (31%). Only 7 (2%) correctly named all 8 major STDs, 35 (9%) named the 4 curable STDs, and 13 (3%) named the 4 incurable STDs. HIV was the mostly commonly named of the 8 major STDs (91%), followed by gonorrhea (77%) and syphilis (65%). Trichomonas infection (22%), human papillomavirus infection (22%), and hepatitis B (15%) were the least-named STDs. Forty-six percent thought HIV was the most common STD in the Philadelphia area. The participants’ mean total STD knowledge score was 3.5 ± 1.9 (maximum possible score, 8). There were fair correlations between knowledge scores and age (correlation coefficient [r] = 0.31;P < 0.0001), as well as between knowledge score and self-perception of STD knowledge (r = 0.23;P < 0.0001). Adolescents educated by parents, school, other relatives, and friends performed better than those educated by other sources. Those educated by multiple sources outperformed those educated by one source.
Conclusions: Adolescents’ specific knowledge about non-HIV STDs is only cursory, despite their reports of having received education about STDs. We must attempt to improve and balance our STD education so that adolescents receive and retain detailed age-appropriate STD information that is consistent with their risk for disease.