2017 was yet another sobering year in the rise of STDs in the United States and across the world. The CDC found that the three major STDs — gonorrhea, syphilis and chlamydia — had reached an all-time high for the 4th straight year. And no end is in sight.
Experts are trying to grapple with what’s causing these alarming statistics, and how to stop them. One piece of data that’s got everyone scratching their heads — It seems reasonable that with the sky-high levels of STDs, Americans should be having more sex than ever before. But that’s not what is happening. A flurry of recent research shows that adults are having LESS sex than they have in decades. What??
The number of Americans who report not having sex at all in the past year rose from 18% twenty years ago, to 22% today. The number of Americans between 18-30 years old who report having sex twice a month or more has dropped from 75% to 66%. And overall, adults look to be having sex 9 times a year fewer on average than they did in the late 1990s. So the big question, since there’s less sex across our nation, why are such a massive amount of people getting STDs?
Gail Bolan, the director of the CDC’s Division of STD Prevention, thinks that’s it’s not so much the number of times that people are having sex, it’s that they are having much riskier sex. A definitive rise in condom-less sex, multiplied by opioid and addition leading to high-risk sexual behaviors.
“Among gay and bisexual men as well as heterosexual couples, there are some behavioral surveys that are suggesting that condom use is on the decline,” she warns. “Additionally, injecting drugs is also associated with higher rates of forced sex, sex in exchange for money or drugs, and sex with other drug users.”
It’s also been shown that intoxication from alcohol or drugs reduce the rate of condom use, because people just forget or deem it too troublesome to wear them. “When people have two drinks, or use opioids, or do meth, that all rational decision-making goes out the door. So drugs are a huge factor in perpetuating the STD rates that we continue to see in our country,” said Perry Halkitis, Dean of Rutgers University School of Public Health.
Another reason that experts fear STD rates are climbing is because funding cuts for public-health centers and STD prevention campaigns have been slashed. Many people believe that STDs are eradicated or aren’t that big a deal — if you catch one just take a pill and you’re cured right? But in actuality STDs have never been a bigger challenge. There are some types (like HIV and Herpes) that can’t be cured, other types (like Syphilis and Hepatitis) you don’t know you are infected until they have caused massive complications to your body. And there are still others (like gonorrhea) who are rapidly developing immunity to all the available treatments that we have and may someday be incurable.
“STIs and STDs aren’t as much of a concern now as they might have been a long time ago, so people might just be having more unprotected sex because they think they’re safer,” said New York City resident, Ajayi Robinson.
All these are massive problems that the public at large just isn’t aware of, partly because there is no funding for information campaigns designed to educate the public.
So what can you do? The CDC recommends adults get tested for STDs once a year or if they start a new sexual relationship. And when you are sexually intimate, use a condom every time.
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