This week, the CDC released its annual report on STD rates in America, while totally neglecting to address one huge cause of STDs: heterosexual men. The report tracks rates of syphilis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia, which all healthcare providers are required to report to the CDC, and, unfortunately, this year's report revealed some shocking findings. STD rates actually increased from 2013 to 2014, for the first time since 2006.
On its helpful fact sheet about the report, the CDC noted that "some groups bear a disproportionate burden for STDs." Very true! (Though, the people who might need to hear that information more than the groups affected are business owners, healthcare legislators, insurance companies, and doctors, but that's a different article.) Notably, the CDC pointed out: young people aged 15-24 suffer from higher rates of gonorrhea and chlamydia, "young women face the most serious long-term health consequences" from STDs, and there has been a "troubling rise in syphilis infections among men, particularly gay and bisexual men."
All very helpful information to consider.
Then, at the bottom of the fact sheet was an infographic about the importance of STD screening and best practices. Can you spot the demographic missing from this critical message?
Uhhh, are heterosexual men at all responsible for their/their partners' sexual health, or nah? Of course, it's important to highlight that women suffer more damaging effects from STDs, and to empower them to get tested with frequency. But what about the source from whom they're getting those STDs? Ie., men.
People with vulvas who have sex with other vulva-havers experience significantly lower rates of viral STD transmission than vulva-havers who have sex with penis-havers. In other words: penises are often what bring the problems.
The fact that the CDC highlights syphilis prevalence being greatest among men who have sex with men, followed by men who have sex with women, with women having the lowest rates, illustrates this. Adding a penis to the equation is what increases the danger.
And rather than impress upon straight men the importance of getting tested as carriers of disease (even though their own longterm health may not be quite as compromised as a woman's), the CDC chose instead to place the burden of responsibility on women to get tested on behalf of themselves and their male partners.
The truth is that straight men, like the rest of us, have a responsibility to be ethical sex partners. The CDC is essentially just assuming that they never will be because it doesn't really affect them, shrugging it off, and focusing on the people whom they know they can reach — women and queer men.
What does it say when even the government agency responsible for our health has given up on holding men accountable for their complicity in the spread of disease?
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