MADISON (WKOW) -- One of the most contagious diseases is expected to infect thousands of young people across Wisconsin this year. No, this is not the H1N1 virus; this is chlamydia, and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
It's dinnertime for Kelly Tauschek and her mother, Sheila, but one topic that probably won't be discussed here is sex. Words like gonorrhea, chlamydia, and syphilis are not exactly part of the dinner table vocabulary.
But the truth is, STDs are all too common these days, and the spread is virtually unstoppable.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), five of the 10 most common diseases are STDs: chlamydia, syphilis, gonorrhea, HPV, and AIDS. These diseases are hitting teenagers harder than ever.
Kelly says part of the problem is most teens just don't talk about STDs or sex.
"Talking about sexuality and sexual actions is just not a norm yet for teenagers. And I think some kids hear the word 'sex' and even that makes them uncomfortable," said Kelly.
But while they may not be comfortable talking about it, more and more teens seem to be plenty comfortable doing it.
According to the Dane County Youth Commission, 44 percent of high school students admitted to being sexually active in 2009. But only 11 percent ever got tested for an STD.
"I think that's an alarming statistic," said Sheila.
Alarming to most adults, but not to Kelly and her friends.
27 News asked sat down with Kelly and six of her classmates at Middleton Alternative Senior High (MASH) to try to see this problem from the eyes of a high school girl.
When we asked how many of them know someone who has had an STD, all hands went up.
Of course, when we turned the question around and asked how many of them had had an STD, it's legs crossed, eyes down, no response.
Still, these girls know a thing or two about STDs. They're part of a peer mentor program through Planned Parenthood that brings sex education into the classroom.
They're plenty comfortable talking about safe sex, even demonstrating how to correctly put on a condom.
They know how important it is to get tested for STDs, but it's safe to say they're the exception, not the rule.
"A lot of people think, 'That can't happen to me,' so they put off [testing]," said Caitie O'Brien, a junior at MASH.
"I think people are way more easygoing about sex and will do it with just about anybody," says MASH senior Dani Fredn.
Meghan Benson works with the peer mentors on how to teach sex ed effectively. She thinks the main reason for the rampant spread of STDs is the lack of communication between parents and children today.
"If we don't have conversations with young children, not necessarily about STDs, but about correct terms for your body parts and how pregnancy happens... if we don't start those conversations early, then it just gets more difficult as kids grow up," says Benson.
Her students agree.
"If you don't agree with your parents views, that can kind of cause that clash. It's like, I feel like you're going to be judgmental toward me so I'm not going to tell you," said Kelly.
Back at the Graham house, Sheila admits talking about sex isn't easy with her five daughters. After all, it's a different world than when she was a teenager.
But that's not stopping her from trying.
"They might not wholesale take your values, but they'll factor it in. So I think it's best to just go ahead and talk about them and even if you feel like you're not getting a whole lot back, I think they're listening," said Sheila.
It may not be easy to talk to your kids about safe sex and STDs, but it may be just the thing to stop the spread of STDs, one teenager at a time
To find out more about STDs, including common side affects and how to get tested, visit the CDC's website.