Experts Blame Everything but Promiscuity for STD Crisis

Commentary by Susan Brinkmann, OCDS

The release of a new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) which revealed another record high for STD infections in 2017 is being met with the usual response calling for more “safe sex” rather than getting to the root of the problem – rampant promiscuity.

According to the CDC, nearly 2.3 million cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis were diagnosed in the United States in 2017. This surpasses the previous record set in 2016 by more than 200,000 cases and marked the fourth consecutive year of sharp increases in these sexually transmitted diseases.

The CDC analysis of STD cases reported for 2013 and preliminary data for 2017 shows steep, sustained increases:

• Gonorrhea diagnoses increased 67 percent overall (from 333,004 to 555,608 cases according to preliminary 2017 data) and nearly doubled among men (from 169,130 to 322,169). Increases in diagnoses among women — and the speed with which they are increasing — are also concerning, with cases going up for the third year in a row (from 197,499 to 232,587).

• Primary and secondary syphilis diagnoses increased 76 percent (from 17,375 to 30,644 cases). Gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men (MSM) made up almost 70 percent of primary and secondary syphilis cases where the gender of the sex partner is known in 2017. Primary and secondary syphilis are the most infectious stages of the disease.

• Chlamydia remained the most common condition reported to CDC. More than 1.7 million cases were diagnosed in 2017, with 45 percent among 15- to 24-year-old females.

“We are sliding backward,” said Jonathan Mermin, M.D., M.P.H, director of CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention. “It is evident the systems that identify, treat, and ultimately prevent STDs are strained to near-breaking point.”

Chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis are curable with antibiotics, yet most cases go undiagnosed and untreated — which can lead to severe adverse health effects that include infertility, ectopic pregnancy, stillbirth in infants, and increased HIV risk.

Prior studies suggest a range of factors may contribute to STD increases, including less frequent condom use, socioeconomic factors like poverty, stigma, and discrimination; and drug use. Others believe dating apps like Tinder may be contributing in some way to the spread of these diseases.

“We have seen steep and sustained increases over the last five years,” said Dr. Gail Bolan, director of the Division of STD Prevention at the CDC. “Usually there are ebbs and flows, but this sustained increase is very concerning. We haven’t seen anything like this for two decades.”

David Harvey, executive director of the National Coalition of STD Directors, told CBS that the United States now has the highest STD rates in the industrialized world.

“We are in the midst of an absolute STD public health crisis in this country. It’s a crisis that has been in the making for years,” Harvey said.

As tragic as these numbers are, they are not surprising given the fact that the same failed strategies are being used over and over again. “Safe sex” education programs which promote the use of condoms have been used for decades to no avail while programs that encourage youth to embrace the only sure method of preventing STDs – abstinence – are widely disdained.

However, when practiced consistently, “abstinence provides the most effective protection against unplanned pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases including HIV infection,” writes the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Promoting abstinence is more important now than ever, especially with growing fears of antibiotic-resistance in certain STDs over the past few years that have experts fearing an uncontrollable disease outbreak.

For example, a new strain of gonorrhea known as “super gonorrhea” is already untreatable with standard antibiotics. In 2013, resistant strains accounted for just one percent of samples tested by the CDC. By 2017, that number jumped to four percent.

“We expect gonorrhea will eventually wear down our last highly effective antibiotic, and additional treatment options are urgently needed,” Dr. Bolan said. “We can’t let our defenses down — we must continue reinforcing efforts to rapidly detect and prevent resistance as long as possible.”

The CDC is also recommending that doctors make STD screening a part of all routine medical appointments.

Until our sexual health programs put more focus on helping youth to live chastely rather than encouraging them to practice “safer sex,” this epidemic will only continue to worsen.

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