I've already commented on the startling national results that claim that one in four teenage girls have an STD. But now a new question is being raised about young women's sexual health because of new Pap smear guidelines.
Prior to the new guidelines, women were told to begin getting pap tests three years after becoming sexually active or when they turned 21. Pap smears look for signs of cervical cancer, namely, they detect abnormal cells in the cervix. Catching the cells early on allows them to be removed before they become cancerous. But new guidelines have changed things up. The guidelines continue to recommend to girls under 21 to see a gynecologist - but they no longer need to get pap smears, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
Seems to be a reasonable new guideline. After all, too many early detections of potential signs of cervical cancer can lead to unnecessary treatments and procedures, and sometimes regrettable stress and anxiety. It's a similar argument made about mammograms, in that encouraging women to get tested a little bit later on cuts back on the risk of treating people who won't get cancer.
But many are arguing that these revised Pap guidelines do something detrimental for teenage girls: it limits their early access to sexual health education, putting them at a higher risk for STDs, and unintended pregnancies. Harold Wiesenfeld, M.D. tells Denise Mann at CNN, "If women hear that they no longer need Pap tests annually or until they are 21, perhaps they wouldn't seek any preventive health care, and whether this results in decreased screening and identification of chlamydia and other STDs remains to be determined, but it is concerning."
Which raises the question, is it worth the risk?
The guidelines are coming up at a time when a growing number of teenage girls need more and more awareness about sexual health and taking care of their bodies. If there is any chance at all that less women will have access to preventive health care, then perhaps the guidelines have an indirect consequence that should be considered more.