With all of the investment being put into STD educational resources and organizations, it is scary to see the continual increase in STDs and alarming STD statistics in the United States.
Do you know why STDs are increasing and are you educated on what you need to do to stay safe?
CDC STD Report – Sound the Alarm
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. The Center for Disease Control (CDC), a leading public health organization in the US, put out a comprehensive report on STDs which is full of interesting and scary data about STDs in the US. This report highlighted that there were over 2,000,000 new STD cases reported in 2016 – the highest number of STD cases ever reported in a single year. 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 dig into this in-depth STD report and some other resources to understand where we are at with understanding STD statistics and the factors that are driving the rapid spread of sexually transmitted infections. Here is a link to the CDC’s report yourself if you would like to check it our for yourself.
STD Statistics – An Overview
STD statistics have been a public health concern for decades. An influential report by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) in the late 1990s highlighted the massive cost that sexually transmitted diseases have on the United States.1 And despite ongoing investment in resources designed to improve education and reduce the burden of STDs on the healthcare system, STD rates continue to grow at alarming rates.
According to the CDC STD report, data suggests that the majority of new STDs occur in people between the ages of 15 and 24. Alarmingly, approximately 25% of all sexually active adolescent females has an STD. Preventable causes of STDs in these age groups include lack of education about STD prevention, lack of time or access to affordable STD resources, and embarrassment.
STD Clinics – Federal Funding Drying Up
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.2
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.
STDs & Escort Services
On a dark, 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 a purely STD perspective, online escort 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.
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. How can you protect yourself and stay safe in a time when STDs continue to rise?
Communication: Talk About STDs
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.
STD Prevention – Protect Yourself
In the heat of a sexual moment, it can be hard to remember that you need to take action to protect yourself. But you have to because it’s your body and health that is at stake. When engaging in sexual encounters with new or untested partners, always use a condom. Standard latex condoms and female condoms can significantly reduce the risk of getting an STD even when sexually engaging with a partner who has one. Consider using condoms even with established partners.
Get Tested for STDs
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.
Educate Yourself on STDs
Even if you are not in a relationship, now is a great time to educate yourself on sexually transmitted diseases. Get smart on the different types of STDs out there, 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.
- Eng TR, Butler WT, editors; Institute of Medicine (US). Summary: The hidden epidemic: confronting sexually transmitted diseases. Washington DC: National Academy Press;1997.
- Baeten JM, Donnell D, Ndase P, et al. Antiretroviral prophylaxis for HIV prevention in heterosexual men and women. N Engl J Med. 2012;367(5):399-410.