Blog Post

Young Women Impacted Most by Record High STDs

Commentary by Susan Brinkmann, OCDS

More than two million cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis were reported in the United States in 2016, the highest number ever, according to the annual Sexually Transmitted Disease Surveillance Report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – with young women bearing the brunt of these infections.

According to the CDC, the majority of these new diagnoses (1.6 million) were cases of chlamydia. However, equally concerning were 470,000 gonorrhea cases and almost 28,000 cases of primary and secondary syphilis which are the most infectious stages of the disease.

While all three of these STDs can be cured with antibiotics, if left undiagnosed and untreated, they can have serious health consequences, including infertility, life-threatening ectopic pregnancy, stillbirth in infants, and increased risk for HIV transmission.

“Increases in STDs are a clear warning of a growing threat,” said Dr. Jonathan Mermin, director of CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention. “STDs are a persistent enemy, growing in number, and outpacing our ability to respond.”

Young women continue to bear the greatest burden of chlamydia (nearly half of all diagnosed infections) with surges in syphilis and gonorrhea increasingly affecting new populations.


Syphilis rates increased by nearly 18 percent overall from 2015 to 2016. The majority of these cases occur among men – especially gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men (MSM) – however, there was a 36 percent increase in rates of syphilis among women, and a 28 percent increase in syphilis among newborns (congenital syphilis) during this period.

More than 600 cases of congenital syphilis were reported in 2016, which has resulted in more than 40 deaths and severe health complications among newborns. The disease is preventable through routine screening and timely treatment for syphilis among pregnant women.

“Every baby born with syphilis represents a tragic systems failure,” said Gail Bolan, director of CDC’s Division of STD Prevention. “All it takes is a simple STD test and antibiotic treatment to prevent this enormous heartache and help assure a healthy start for the next generation of Americans.”

While gonorrhea increased among men and women in 2016, the steepest increases were seen among men (22 percent). Research suggests that a large share of new gonorrhea cases are occurring among MSM. These trends are particularly alarming in light of the growing threat of drug resistance to the last remaining recommended gonorrhea treatment.


MSM also bear a great syphilis burden. MSM make up a majority of syphilis cases, and half of MSM diagnosed with syphilis were also living with HIV – pointing to the need to integrate STD and HIV prevention and care services.

The CDC is recommending increased focus on improving diagnosis and treatment of pregnant women with syphilis in order to avoid contagion to newborns. They are also planning to help state and local health departments develop rapid testing for drug-resistant gonorrhea in order to quickly find and treat affected individuals.

Unfortunately, instead of calling for sexual abstinence until marriage, which is the only sure way to dramatically decrease these appalling numbers, the CDC is continuing to recommend that people use condoms (which are rarely used correctly) or practice mutual monogamy if sexually active. This dooms our youth to not only a lifetime of potential disease, but to the heartache of trying to find love in all the wrong places.

With young women are bearing the brunt of these diseases, it’s important to reinforce the need for girls to live chastely in order to insure both their physical and emotional health.

As we teach in our Young Women of Grace study, “The Church’s call to remain abstinent until marriage isn’t just about avoiding pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases – it’s about finding real love.”

Studies have found that most teens, both male and female, aspire to marry and raise a family, a dream that should not be stolen from them by secular cultural trends that continue to glorify the very promiscuity that is causing this dangerous epidemic.

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