A GP and a mum on why young people are avoiding STI tests.

Mum-of-two Jackie* remembers the time she tried to talk to her teenagers about safe sex and failed, horribly.

"One of the most embarrassing moments was at the breakfast bar one morning where I gave a condom roll-on demonstration to two mortified teenagers with a banana. 

"Even though I have a pretty open relationship with my kids about all topics, this one has to go down as an epic fail! I feel like these tricky conversations really sneak up on you and they are challenging."

Asking your teens about safe sex and whether they have had a sexual health check-up is an awkward conversation that like Jackie, no parent or teen really wants to have.

However, avoiding sexual health chats and STI checks, especially for asymptomatic infections like chlamydia or gonorrhea, can have long-lasting and devastating effects.

And while the research highlights that STI rates are mostly down in young people, a reduction in testing post-COVID could be the cause. Recent data around the prevalence of STIs in the community shows that 1 in 25 young people aged 15-29 in Australia had chlamydia during 2021, but less than a third of those received a diagnosis. 

Watch: Things parents of teens just get. Post continues below.

Video via Mamamia

Why STI testing rates have declined.

General Practitioner Dr Mitchell Tanner of Stigma Health says that many young people will not see their GP or healthcare professional mostly because of a lack of education and fear.

"The reasons for young people avoiding STI tests are many, varied and well documented," Dr Tanner tells Mamamia. 

"A UNSW survey titled “Getting Down To It” best outlines these reasons in the Australian context. Reasons young people don’t undergo STI testing include; a lack of perceived need for testing and risk of infection, a lack of knowledge about STIs, fear of the testing process, fear of medical staff attitudes, fear of parental reaction, shame and negative views of people with STI’s and barriers to testing such as cost, time, and accessibility of medical services.

"Despite these reasons, the survey actually showed most young people held positive views regarding the idea and concept of STI testing. The problem to be solved is correlating this positive view of an STI test with actually going and getting one done."

No safe sex.

The avoidance reasons resonate with 43-year-old Jackie, who says her kids are hyper-embarrassed by talking to her about sexual health. Not only that, but as a high school teacher and girls' sports coach she believes young people of this generation are a lot less knowledgeable and confident about these issues than their parents might assume.


"Recently I had a 16-year-old girl come to me with symptoms she was experiencing and I encouraged her to get an STI test just to be sure. It turned out she had chlamydia and luckily she’s now in treatment. She didn’t want to speak with her parents or her friends about it since it’s such a huge taboo.

“I’ve really taken on a supportive role to encourage her to speak with the sexual partners she’s had but she’s adamant that she won’t out of embarrassment. 

"We spoke about me doing a group session with the boys and girls at school to encourage everyone to get tested which she was happy with. It seems none of them practice safe sex and don’t see an issue with it which is just crazy to think about."

Listen to Mamamia's podcast for parents of teens Help I have a Teenager. Post continues below.


Parents must be open about sexual health.

Dr Tanner says the only way to get over this embarrassment factor about discussing sexual health is to be open with your teens, no matter how awkward.

"The best approach for parents is to accept sex is a normal part of life and that teenagers and young people do have sex: They always have and they always will. Forbidding the act and threatening punishments will more than likely drive teens away from their parents and force them to source information from potentially unreliable sources. 

"The best thing parents can do is address sex in a calm and factual manner, not get embarrassed and make sure their teens get accurate information about safe sex. The teens may still feel awkward, but at least they will get the correct information. Direct them to legitimate resources such as Play Safe or Family Planning Australia.  


"Nothing is more important as a parent of teenagers than addressing the need for contraception and the realities of STIs. By normalising the subject and addressing the matter in a calm and factual way, parents can minimise the embarrassment and ensure their teens don’t run away."

Mum Jackie agrees, especially after being so shocked to discover so many of her young students were not as savvy about safe sex as she was when she was a teen.

“I really feel like there was more talk about safe sex when I was younger than there is now. It was really drummed into us with messages like: 'If it’s not on, it’s not on' and that grim reaper TV campaign that everyone our age still remembers. 

"It's scary to think that maybe we've become complacent about it like it's assumed knowledge that doesn't need to be taught anymore. Our teens need help!"

The long-term health implications of undiagnosed STIs.

Aside from education and prevention, the main reason teens should get tested for STIs Dr Tanner says is because most STIs are asymptomatic and can be passed from person to person without anyone knowing. They can also have long-term problematic health implications.

"Untreated Chlamydia and Gonorrhoea can lead to significant fertility and contraception issues in women wishing to fall pregnant. Preventing the spread of HIV has been extremely successful in Australia since the identification of the pandemic and the implementation of Public Health campaigns in the 1980s. Last year, Australia recorded our lowest-ever number of new cases of HIV at just over 500 nationwide for the year. We are within touching distance of ending HIV in Australia.


"Ending HIV is a current Public Health campaign being run by ACON. The cornerstones of the campaign and the push to end HIV in Australia is to 'Test Often, Test Early, and Stay Safe!' So close to the goal, it is important to keep testing and stay on top of the issue.

"I say to parents that the best way they can help their teens with testing and knowledge about STIs is to ensure they are getting reliable and accurate information. But first, they need to get over their embarrassment."

For information on STIs and sexual health visit the Play Safe or Family Planning Australia websites. To find out more about online STI testing visit Stigma Health. 

Laura Jackel is Mamamia's Senior Lifestyle Family Writer. For links to her articles and to see photos of her outfits and kids, follow her on Instagram and TikTok.

*While this person is known to Mamamia, her name has been changed for privacy reasons.

Feature Image: Getty.

Love watching TV and movies? Take our survey now to go in the running to win a $100 gift voucher.