MTV is spreading the word for young people: "Get Yourself Tested" for STDs. Using the acronym GYT (a nice three-letter mash-up much like the now common OMG -- "oh my god" -- and LOL -- "laughing out loud"), MTV is hoping that the simplicity and convenience of this simple phrase and the alarming need for better STD prevention will have a viral impact on some of their network's most loyal consumers: teenagers and young adults.
Recent studies show that STDs are spreading amongst young people at sharply increasing rates, and the lack of education about testing procedures is a major cause of this trend. According to MTV, "as many as one in two sexually active young people will contract an STD by age 25 -- and most won't know it". The CDC points out that this age group represents half of the estimated 19 million STDs occurring in the United States each year. Half? Wow.
And while the rate increases are severe, the lack of awareness is treacherous and just plain silly. There is absolutely no reason that young people should not be armed with the simple knowledge of knowing where to go to get tested, what the procedures entail, and common prevention techniques. The sad thing is this: the reason most of them don't know about these things may be because the responsible members of our society, most of whom have been sexually active for far longer (and inherently understand the risks better) do not speak on the importance of testing and the severity of STDs. These diseases can cause infertility, permanent physical disability, and of course death.
MTV is taking matters into its own hands with the "GYT" campaign. Their efforts are widespread, including setting up a non-profit and a website to spread awareness, television programming (their bread and butter), various online contests and promotions, and partnerships with testing centers and other organizations and sponsors. They returned some impressive results last year. In 2009, the United States observed an increase in STD testing among of young people under the age of 25 at Planned Parenthood health centers nationwide. Male STD patients increased testing by 36 percent, and females by 18 percent, from the previous year in ten nationally representative Planned Parenthood health centers.
These numbers are impressive, and I'm encouraged by the diversity and number of organizations partnering with MTV on the GYT campaign. And while the television and internet techniques will surely help spread the word, there's nothing like old-fashioned conversation about the risks of the birds and the bees. I hope parents -- and younger peer groups -- take notice.