STDs Are On The Rise, Let’s Talk About It
In a technology-driven dating world, it’s scary, but not surprising, to see the continual increase in STD statistics. Do you know why STDs are increasing and are you educated as to what you need to do to stay safe?
Many would argue that there has never been a more critical time to be worried about sexually transmitted diseases (also referred to as sexually transmitted infections), or STDs and to get STD testing. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) in a report released last year, researchers revealed that there were over two million new STD cases reported in the U.S. in 2016. The scary part is that this is the highest number ever reported in a single year by the CDC. With this explosion in sexually transmitted infections, one cannot help but wonder what is behind this rapid increase and what can be done to stop it.
Let’s take a look at some of the factors that are driving the rapid spread of sexual infections.
Technology – The STD Accelerator
STDs in the Age of Swipe & Click
While far less efficient, dating used to be so simple. People would find potential romantic partners mostly through getting set up by friends or colleagues or through a network like a church. Less commonly, sexual partners were found through chance encounters at social venues like a concert, bar or nightclub. There was a time not long ago when a potential partner would have to do the following:
- Pick up a phone on a wall and dial a number (hope it’s not busy)
- Get through the gatekeeper parent
- Charm the partner-to-be
- Make arrangements to meet afterwards
- Possibly make second contact with gatekeeper/parent at pick up (in extreme cases also at drop off)
- Be expected to carry on a face-to-face conversation- no texting or sexting
- Maybe…just maybe there would be a connection
These days, technology has made it far easier to access a wide pool of potential sexual partners and hook up with them. Thanks to apps like Tinder and Bumble and website like Match.com and eHarmony.com, one can start setting up dates or even just sexual encounters with thousands of potential partners while sipping on a morning coffee. From a starting point of zero, online dating marketplaces have rapidly increased in market share and some data indicates that 55% of Americans who are dating or married report they met online.
But there is a downside to the convenience of using technology to find your next romantic encounter. The efficiency with which people can hook up has made it easier for STDs like herpes, chlamydia and gonorrhea to spread from person to person, accelerating the spreading of sexually transmitted infections. Furthermore, a lot of people aren’t completely transparent with what they have been up to recently with their online profiles and personas, leading to the risk of getting more than you bargained for if you do decide to engage sexually. Unfortunately, as one might expect, the majority of online dating marketplaces can do very little to protect you so it’s up to you to be vigilant about the STD risk a potential partner might pose.
On a bit darker, but very real, front is the world of online escort services. Prostitution has (in)famously held the title of being “The Oldest Profession In The World” and the internet has become a discreet avenue for encounters. A number of websites once (and possible still) thrived selling adult ads in escort sections. While the recently passed FOSTA-SESTA legislation has helped shut down known websites, newer websites will always come online, offering escort and prostitute listing services. From an STD perspective, these websites make sexual relationships with unknown individuals simple and increase the risk of being exposed to an STI. In some cases, those who work in the sex trade may not even know that they have been infected from a sexual encounter and can unknowingly pass a sexually transmitted disease to other clients.
Statistics Show: Lack of Federal Funding Hits Hard
Getting treatment for an STD has also become harder than it used to be. In the past, government-funded public health clinics were available in most counties that offered access to STD testing and treatment for concerned individuals. Many of these clinics did not require an appointment – offering same day, walk in service – for free or a low cost. STD treatment through these public health clinics helped reduce the spread of STDs between infected individuals.
Starting in 2013, funding for public health clinics started to diminish. Without funding, many public clinics in low-income neighborhoods had to cut back on the medical services they offered, the number of STD providers they staffed, and their hours of operation. Some also increased their STD treatment prices to cover the financial shortfalls. As can be seen on the graph below, the negative impact of these changes was felt most powerfully in specific race/ethnic groups, hitting these communities hard. The lack of access to adequate treatment, coupled with unemployment and lack of education about preventing STDs, have enabled sexually transmitted infections to spread rampantly in many communities.
STD Prevention – Plan B & Birth Control Pills Are Not Protective
Pharmaceutical methods – from birth control pills to Plan B “morning after” contraceptives – have become quite popular as safe ways to reduce the likelihood of getting pregnant after unprotected sexual activity. However, many people may not realize that contraceptives do not protect against sexually transmitted diseases. Preventing infections from sexual activity requires additional measures such as using condoms or practicing complete abstinence.
PrEP – False Security Against STD Infections
The advent of pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, is recommended by many as a way for people who are at risk for HIV infections to have some protection against it. PrEP consists of a pill that typically combines two medications – tenofovir and emtricitabine – and is sold under brand names like Truvada. PrEP medications, when taken daily, are thought to reduce the risk of getting a permanent HIV infection almost completely.
The key idea, however, is almost completely. PrEP, like every other form of prevention out there, is not foolproof. Unfortunately, it can be easy to feel invincible while taking PrEP and can lead to a false sense of security when one engages in risky behaviors while taking the medication. On top of that, PrEP only works against HIV, leaving the unwary sexual participant at risk for other sexually transmitted infections such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, herpes and syphilis.
Communication: Sticking to STD Facts Can Help
Discussing sex and sexuality openly is often a taboo subject. Going further, many people feel shame with the idea of mentioning sexually transmitted diseases and infections, even when talking with their doctor. With this shame comes risk because many people many not have ever discussed their past – and risk factors for STIs – with their sexual partners in detail. This dangerous combination of social stigma and lack of knowledge is what keeps STD statistics on the rise and keeps people from receiving the treatment they need. While the all-or-nothing solution of abstinence is an option most people know about, it does not address the gray areas of sexuality for people who do have sex. After all, sex feels great and being up front about the sexual nature of humans starts the process of coming up with intelligent solutions to help prevent the spread of STDs.
Staying Safe in an STD World
Whether you consider yourself a millennial sexually engaging with new partners or a senior reentering the dating market, it is your personal responsibility to protect yourself and your partners from the potentially devastating effects of contracting an STD. Prior to starting a relationship, consider getting a full STD screening panel or, at the very least, individual STD tests like the herpes blood test so you can go into a new relationship with confidence. During a relationship, consider getting regular STD testing with your partner and especially consider getting STD early detection testing if you are concerned about an infection because of infidelity or other reasons.
Even if you are not in a relationship, there is never a better time than now to educate yourself on sexually transmitted diseases. Get smart on how STIs are transmitted, how to avoid them, and how and where to get treatment if you are exposed. Check out trusted information sources like the CDC and, with more detailed questions, find an open-minded healthcare professional to share your concerns.
While STDs can bring fear to many, there is no reason to be afraid if you are empowered with accurate information and knowledge. Don’t become another STD statistic. If Accesa Labs can help you with your STD screening needs, feel free to contact us or just get tested.