Sexually Transmitted Diseases
The United States has the highest sexually transmitted disease (STD) rate of any country in the industrialized world. Consider the following alarming statistics:
Over 65 million Americans currently have an incurable STD.
At least one in three sexually active people are estimated to have contracted an STD by age 24!
Each year there are 15 million new STD cases in the United States, of which 50% are incurable.
Rates of reported STDs are particularly high among young women. Women aged 20-24 have the highest rate of the two most common STDs, Chlamydia and gonorrhea.
All of today’s viral STDs have no cure, and they can leave a path of sterility, cancer, death, and heartache. The heartache and pain that women now experience because of a sexually transmitted disease might have been prevented had they waited for their first sexual experience.
Teens are in particular need of accurate information about STD prevention. Consider these facts.
Each year over 3 million teens are infected with an STD.
Gonorrhea rates are highest among females, 15-19 years old.
At least 10% of all sexually active teens are infected with pelvic inflammatory disease, a condition most often caused by untreated gonorrhea or Chlamydia that can lead to infertility and ectopic pregnancy.Comprehensive sex educators assert that equipping sexually active women with knowledge about STD prevention is the best solution. However, conveying the message that “safe sex” can be achieved with contraceptives is dangerously misleading. Young people are often led to believe that they will be safe from STDs and pregnancy if they use condoms.
Truth about Condoms
However, even proponents of condoms caution that condoms may only help reduce the number of new cases of some STDs. Condoms do not provide total protection in sexually transmitted diseases that are spread by skin contact rather than by fluid transmission.
For adolescent females, the increased risk for STDs stems largely from initiating sexual intercourse at earlier ages, engaging in intercourse with older male partners, and having multiple partners. If there were multiple partners in the past, she may carry a risk of exposure to several STDs.
Young women frequently underestimate their partner’s risks. They tend to form perceptions of their partner’s risks based on impressions rather than factual information. Many sexually active young women do not view themselves as being at risk for STDs regardless of the number of their sexual partners or whether they had been tested in the past.
“Saying that the use of condoms is safe sex is in fact playing Russian roulette. A lot of people will die in this dangerous game.”
- Dr. Teresa Crenshaw, Past President, American Association of Sex Educators
An immature immune system places adolescents at increased risk for STDs. Having had less exposure to STD pathogens, they have subsequently less circulating antibodies for protection.
Another reason teen girls face a greater risk of developing an STD from sexual experimentation is due to anatomical variance. The cervix of a teenage girl has an outer covering, which is more susceptible to infection by the bacteria and viruses of STDs.Human Papilloma virus infection (HPV) is the most common STD that the typical American adolescent and young adult will be exposed to. Recent studies document that even with 100% condom use there is no evidence of any risk reduction. A study done by the Department of Health and Human Services concluded that there was no epidemiological evidence that condom use reduced the risk of HPV infection. Furthermore, there is no evidence of any risk reduction for sexual transmission of STDs from sores outside the areas covered by, or protected by condoms.The following charts list common bacterial STDs and how they are transmitted:
Bacterial Mode of Transmission
- ChlamydiaContact with infected genital fluids
- GonorrheaContact with infected genital fluids
- SyphilisContact with infected skin lesions
- ChancroidContact with infected skin lesions
Common viral STDs are transmitted as follows:
- ViralMode of Transmission
- Human Papilloma VirusContact with skin lesions / body fluid
- HIV/AIDSContact with infected genital or body fluids
- Herpes Simplex VirusContact with infected skin lesions or body fluids
STD prevention efforts have focused on vaginal sexual intercourse largely because of efforts towards pregnancy prevention, but it is clear that this focus is too narrow. Young adults and teens need to understand the risks associated with oral and anal sex. Several STDs can be transmitted by oral sex, including: Chlamydia, chancroid, gonorrhea, syphilis, genital herpes (HSV), hepatitis B, and human papilloma virus (HPV).
The information gap needs to be closed to reduce the risk associated with all forms of sexual activity; not just vaginal intercourse. This is especially true as there is evidence that teens are increasingly experimenting with oral sex based upon false information that it is far less dangerous than vaginal intercourse.