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Here's Why STDs Are on the Rise
The past few years have been record-breaking in terms of the sheer number of STIs present in the country, particularly among adolescents and young adults. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 4 15 to 19 year old sexually active females have an STD (1). Additionally, 15 to 24 year olds account for half of the 20 million new STIs occurring each year, 65% of the 98% rise of chlamydia between 2000 and 2016, and 50% of the drastic increase of syphilis (2).
A sexually transmitted disease, also referred to as an STD or STI, is an infection caused by bacteria, viruses or parasites that is transmitted through sexual contact. Common STDs include chlamydia, genital herpes, HPV infection, gonorrhea, HIV/Aids, and syphilis. Although many different factors can play into the contraction of an STI, certain people are more susceptible than others. People who have sex with many partners, people who have sex with people who have had many partners, and people who do not use condoms are at a higher risk of contracting an STD (3).
Many STDs are asymptomatic, making them particularly hard to catch. However, STDS need to be treated because they can potentially develop into pelvic inflammatory disease in women, lead to cancer (HPV is the leading cause of cervical cancer), as well as infertility in both sexes (3,4).
The increasing rates by which STDs are occurring can be attributed to two major factors: people are generally ditching condoms and federal funding of sex-ed has been declining.
Among heterosexuals, the risk of pregnancy is oftentimes the greatest worry of unprotected sex. This is likely because STDs are gradually losing the stigma they have had in the past as they are becoming more treatable. As a result, during sex people may pay more attention to the effectiveness and desirability of a contraceptive than protection from an STI. For example, IUDs are 99.99% effective while condoms are only 85% effective due to human error, therefore making IUDs more successful at reducing the risk of pregnancy and more desirable in some cases (5,6). However, IUDs and other forms of birth control do not prevent STDs, so as these contraceptives grow in popularity and condoms aren't used as often, the number of STDs will go up (7). In other words, with the lower risk of pregnancy birth control offers, there is less motivation present to use a condom and a greater risk of contracting an STD.
Gay and bisexual men are at a much higher risk of catching an STD than individuals who have sex with women. As a whole, they have more sex with individuals who have a greater chance of having an STD and potentially less access to health care, thereby increasing their risk of contracting an STI. They also have reported wearing condoms less often, partially due to the invention of PrEP, a medication that is highly effective in preventing HIV (8). Because it prevents HIV, or the "most feared" STD, gay and bisexual men are neglecting the possibility of developing an STI that PrEP does not protect against. According to The Lancet, as PrEP has been gaining popularity, the rate of consistent condom usage among gay and bisexual men has dropped from 46% to 31%. The uptake of PrEP is also correlated with increased rates of STDs such as syphilis; in 2016, men who have sex with men accounted for 81% of male syphilis despite their small makeup of the population (1).
Frugal federal funding towards public health is another big factor in the rise of STDs. In 2012, only 3 percent of the health budget went to public health measures. Since 2008, there are 50,000 fewer public health jobs and many STD clinics have had to either reduce their resources or close down (8). There have consistently been fewer STD prevention efforts, infrequent and inefficient STD screenings, and a lack of public education sweeping the nation.
Unless more money and time is dedicated towards improving public health, it is likely that we will continue to see a rise in STDs. Our government should take the necessary steps to help control this public health epidemic.
(1) “2016 Sexually Transmitted Diseases Surveillance.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
(2) “Statistics |.” American Sexual Health Association: Your Source For Sexual Health Information.
(3) “Cervical Cancer Causes: HPV, Sex, and Other Risks.” Healthline, Healthline Media.
(4) “Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs).” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 6 Oct. 2017.
(5) Parenthood, Planned. “What Is the Effectiveness of the IUD?” Planned Parenthood.
(6) Parenthood, Planned. “What Is the Effectiveness of Condoms?” Planned Parenthood.
(7) “Comprehensive, up-to-Date Information on HIV/AIDS Treatment and Prevention from the University of California San Francisco.” Does Birth Control Protect against HIV?, 22 July 2004.
(8) Belluz, Julia. “5 Reasons Why 3 STDs Are Roaring Back in America.” Vox, Vox, 28 Aug. 2018.