An interesting new report came out recently, showing that STI cases in the U.S. are at an all-time high. This report was brought to us courtesy of Quest Diagnostics, which is one of the leaders in taking surveys and sharing unusual information.
I found out a very surprising, yet disturbing piece of information: a lot of young women weren’t worried about getting infected with some common STIs like chlamydia and gonorrhea despite being at high risk of contracting them. Most of the young adults who responded to the survey were between the ages of 15 and 24, which is actually the age when they’re the most vulnerable.
Aside from that, the survey also revealed that about half of the participants said they were sexually active, but 61 percent of the sexually active ladies weren’t protected during their last sexual encounter.
And here’s the part that really bugged me: nine out of ten of the sexually active young women said that they didn’t feel threatened by the risk of STIs. I guess they didn’t realize that more than 9 million women in the US are diagnosed with STDs every year.
Some of the other groups (besides the 15 – 24 female age bracket) that are at high-risk for getting an STI are older women with new sex partners or multiple sex partners, and men who have sex with men (MSM).
The survey got me asking about the importance of sexual health today. What is being done to spread STI awareness? What are the dangers of getting infected with STIs, and how can someone prevent oneself from contracting them?
Most Common STIs
According to the World Health Organization, more than 1 million people get STIs worldwide every single day. STIs, or Sexually Transmitted Infections, are sometimes difficult to identify because most of them don’t have any symptoms that you can easily see. STIs are normally spread through sexual contact such as vaginal, oral, and anal sex.
STIs may have short-term and long-term effects. A few of the short-term effects are sores or blisters, pain or burning sensations while urinating, unusual or foul-smelling discharge from the penis or vagina, or bleeding from any of the reproductive organs.
Some of the long-term effects can be infertility and Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID) for women, and epididymitis for men. According to the CDC, which is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it’s estimated that around 24,000 young women become infertile every year from STDs that they didn’t even know they had.
There’s a lot of different kinds of sexually transmitted infections that we need to watch out for. While some are curable and don’t cause much trouble, others can be deadly. Let’s take a look at some of the most common STIs which are contracted and passed between sexual partners.
HPV (Human Papillomavirus) – HPV is the most common STI in the United States. Although it sounds the same as HIV and HSV, it’s actually completely different. HPV can cause health problems such as genital warts and in extreme cases, cancer of the throat, penis, vagina, or anus. The good news? There’s a vaccine that can manage the symptoms of HPV and protect against secondary diseases.
Chlamydia – this is a common STI found in both men and women. Symptoms include burning sensations when urinating and abnormal vaginal/penis discharges. Lucky for us, chlamydia can be cured as long as it’s identified and treated early on.
Gonorrhea – Here’s another one to look out for. Gonorrhea causes infections in the rectum, genitals, or throat. Symptoms for men are similar to other STIs; burning sensations when urinating, colored discharge from the penis, or swollen testicles. But a word of caution to all young women: it’s hard to tell by yourself if you have gonorrhea, as there aren’t many outward signs.
Syphilis – Syphilis occurs when bacteria known as Treponema pallidum infects a host by spreading through sexual contact. Symptoms manifest in the form of ulcers, rashes, and occasionally fever. See your doctor for testing if you’re unsure – the little prick you get is more fun than an unlucky one-night stand!
HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) – A virus that attacks the body’s immune system.
AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) – This syndrome is what results in the body if HIV is left untreated.
HSV-1 / HSV-2 (Herpes Simplex Virus) – This is a virus spread through direct contact. There are two types of Herpes Simplex. HSV-1 can cause sores and blisters to appear around the mouth and on the face. HSV-2 is contracted through having sexual contact with a person who is already infected. Trust me, HSV is not as simple as its name implies.
Trichomoniasis – This is also known as “Trich”. Symptoms are rare for this STI but can include discharge from the reproductive organs and burning during urination or ejaculation. Trich can be treated with medication. It’s caused by a by a tiny parasitic creature that passes around through sexual contact. This is one Pokémon you definitely don’t want to catch.
Why STIs Are on The Rise
It seems to me that the issue at hand is lack of communication. Based on Quest Diagnostic’s survey results, can you imagine that only about 56 percent of the women who were sexually active were ever able to complete a health test? Another 27 percent said that they were uncomfortable with discussing the topic with their clinician or even their own parents. And yet another 27 percent said they had lied previously regarding their sexual history.
The way I see it, since young women are not talking with their doctors and getting screened for STIs, there are definitely still some huge opportunities for improvement. As long as there is the stigma or social disgrace involved with the topic of STIs and STDs, this problem seems most likely to repeat itself again and again – like an episode of Game of Thrones where characters just can’t stay dead and keep coming back to life.
Besides the nearly 3,500 young women who participated in the survey, respondents also included mothers of women ages 15-24, as well as a couple hundred primary care, OB-GYNs, and specialty clinicians. What the report shows is that the lack of communication between patient and provider may go both ways.
Nearly 25 percent of health care professionals represented in the survey responded that they are uncomfortable with bringing up the topic with their young patients, and this is despite the fact that the recommendation given by the CDC is that young women within the high-risk age bracket should receive annual STI testing even if they do not show symptoms. Dang, if our own doctors are afraid to tell us, who can we rely on?
The solution to this whole dilemma? Honesty. Understanding that there is a real risk involved is the first step. Open communication with parents and providers is the key to identifying and protecting against cases of STIs.
Patients should feel more comfortable with sharing information with health care providers in order to detect STDs early on and prescribe possible treatment. It starts with having a non-judgmental attitude when discussing sensitive topics by remaining focused towards the resolution.
The next step is to have better awareness campaigns about safe sex and the dangers of these STIs/STDs. According to Gail Bolan, the director of the division in charge of STDs at the CDC, “The resurgence of syphilis, and particularly congenital syphilis is not an arbitrary event; but rather a symptom of a deteriorating public health infrastructure and lack of access to health care.”
If we take these preventive measures, I’m confident that STIs can be wiped out the same way we destroyed measles, rubella, and polio. And what’s more, our future generations will certainly be grateful for it!