A recently released study finding that at least one in four teenage girls nationwide has a sexually transmitted disease (STD) — and the not-so-publicized news that so, too, does one in five adults — is, well, not so shocking for those of us who have lived the experience.

According to the study, which was conducted as part of a government health survey in 2003 - 2004 by Sara Forhan of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 3 million teenage girls have at least one STD. Among African American teens, the percentage is even higher: almost half of the young women have an STD.

I know what they are going through. When I was 21 years old, my doctor sat me down, looked at me with sad eyes, and told me that I had contracted a sexually transmitted disease. I couldn't believe it was true, especially since I'd practiced "safe sex," as taught at school, and engaged in sex only while in a committed relationship.

Yet the diagnosis was inescapable. And so began the first of many days during which I wrestled with how quickly sex could go from "free and casual" to "medical and forever." I entered into a very private, dark period of my life that lasted about eight years. Every time someone would compliment my looks or appearance, I felt as if my life had become something akin to a cardboard cutout. I may have looked good on the outside, but I was almost literally dying on the inside. (The type of STD I have is a leading cause of cancer in women.)

As my required check-ups continued, I noticed that the doctor's initial empathy for my condition turned into a cavalier attitude. During one such visit, I poured out my heart to him and asked him a number of questions (for where else could I go when no one else knew my secret?). ...

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