In case you needed any more convincing that wearing protection during sex is always a smart idea, here's some bleak news: according to the annual Sexually Transmitted Diseases Surveillance Report released by the CDC, STD rates in the U.S. are at a record high. In 2016, Americans reported more than two million cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis — the highest number ever. The report reveals that, since the end of 2015, there's been a 4.7 percent increase in reported cases of chlamydia, an 18.5 percent increase in gonorrhea cases, and a 17.6 percent increase in early syphilis cases — all of which is extremely concerning.
"Increases in STDs are a clear warning of a growing threat,” Dr. Jonathan Mermin, director of CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention, said in a press release. “STDs are a persistent enemy, growing in number, and outpacing our ability to respond.”
It's scary to think about the impact rising STD rates could have, and although it's not exactly fun, casual conversation fodder, it's imperative that we talk about issues pertaining to sexual health — especially when the alternative is remaining uninformed and potentially putting ourselves at risk. So if you want to protect yourself and help stop STD rates from increasing even further, here's everything you need to know in light of these worrisome new statistics.
STD Rates Are Higher Among Young Adults
The CDC estimates that young people aged 15-24 acquire half of all new STDs — but why is it that we're more at risk than some other generations? Aside from the abysmal state of sexual education in America, there are a lot of other barriers that prevent young people from getting the sexual healthcare they desperately need.
Per the CDC's website: "The higher prevalence of STDs among adolescents may also reflect multiple barriers to accessing quality STD prevention and management services, including inability to pay, lack of transportation, long waiting times, conflict between clinic hours and work and school schedules, embarrassment attached to seeking STD services, method of specimen collection, and concerns about confidentiality."
These STDs Affect Young Women Most
If you're a young woman who's had an STD diagnosis at some point, you're not alone: according to the CDC, one in four sexually active adolescent females has an STD — and by far the most common among young women are chlamydia and gonorrhea. The CDC found that out of 1.6 million total reported cases of chlamydia in 2016, young women aged 15-24 accounted for almost half of those, and the rate of gonorrhea in women increased by 13.8 percent from 2015 to 2016. According to the STD Surveillance Report's Special Focus Profile on women and infants: "Chlamydia and gonorrhea disproportionately affect women because early infection may be asymptomatic and, if untreated, infection may ascend to the upper reproductive tract resulting in pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)."
Although men who have sex with men (MSM) are the group most at risk for syphilis, there was also a 36 percent increase in syphilis rates among women from 2015 to 2016, making it another very prevalent risk for sexually active women.
What We Can Do To Lower STD Rates
First things first: no matter your gender identity, sexual orientation, or relationship status, if you're not 100 percent sure you're STD-free, schedule an STD screening with your healthcare provider ASAP. And, it should go without saying, but being safe and responsible during sex — whether it's with a one-night-stand or a long-term partner — is the best way to do your part in preventing the spread of potentially dangerous STDs.
Aside from each of us taking control of our own personal sexual health, there's a lot more work that needs to be done if we want to help ensure that STD rates are tamped back down (or at least stop them from increasing next year). Per the CDC's press release, here are steps that people at all levels can take to stop the STD epidemic in its tracks:
"State and local health departments should refocus efforts on STD investigation and clinical service infrastructure for rapid detection and treatment for people living in areas hardest hit by the STD epidemic. Providers should make STD screening and timely treatment a standard part of medical care, especially for pregnant women and MSM. They should also try to seamlessly integrate STD screening and treatment into prenatal care and HIV prevention and care services. Everyone should talk openly about STDs, get tested regularly, and reduce risk by using condoms or practicing mutual monogamy if sexually active."
It doesn't matter whether you sleep with one person or a 100: all that matters is that you're informed, know how to protect yourself, and feel comfortable discussing and managing your own sexual health. If we keep ourselves healthy, start more open dialogues about sexual health, and teach those younger than us about safe sex, then hopefully, with time, STD rates will start to decline again.
Oh, and one last important, relevant reminder: there's absolutely nothing dirty or shameful about living with an STD — if you take steps to manage it and are open and upfront with your partners, you can still have a healthy, happy, active sex and dating life if you have an STD.