April is STI/STD Awareness Month, but awareness about sex and the infections that could come along with it is something that should be on everyone’s mind if you’re sexually active.
Despite advances in contraception, technology, and methods of accessing information about prevention, sexually transmitted infections are at an all-time high in the US, and those that are most vulnerable—teenagers, pregnant women, and men who have sex with men—are at the highest risk. Many people with sexually transmitted diseases live in silence, ashamed to seek treatment because of the stigma surrounding, which potentially leads to the spread of diseases. But even the CDC uses the famous football saying, that “the best offense is a good defense.”
To arm yourself against the spread of STIs is to educate yourself about what’s out there, how to protect yourself, and how to treat diseases should you come in contact with them so that it doesn’t continue spread.
Awareness of the numbers
Sexually transmitted infections are increasing despite access to prophylactics and education.
In 2016, STDs increased for the third year in a row. And the numbers are particularly startling for reported cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis.
Many people who are infected have no signs or symptoms, and the only way to know is to see a provider.
Overview: Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are at a record high in the United States, and while they can impact anyone, vulnerable groups—including young people, pregnant women, and men who have sex with men—are hit hardest. In this episode, we hear state and national perspectives from leaders in the fight against STDs, discussing the resurgence and health impacts of STDs, proven prevention strategies, and the critical role of disease intervention specialists.
- Gail Bolan, Director, CDC’s Division of Sexually Transmitted Disease Prevention
- Nathaniel Smith, Director and State Health Officer, Arkansas Department of Health
- Jeff Stover, Operations Director for Population Health, Virginia Department of Health
According to Gail Bolan, Director, CDC’s Division of Sexually Transmitted Disease Prevention, “Many are people who might suspect that they are infected find it difficult to talk with their own provider simply because of the stigma, discrimination, and the embarrassment that can happen with an STD, so they like to come to the STD clinic because that’s where they are actually able to get confidential services that may not be as confidential in other healthcare settings.”
There are more than 20 types of sexually transmitted infections. The most common STIs are chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, and trichomoniasis, which infect more than 357 million people each year just among these four diseases.
Young people aged 13 to 24 make up roughly 20% of all new HIV diagnosesin the United States. In 2016, “African Americans accounted for 54% (3,719) of infections attributed to male-to-male sexual contact, Hispanics/Latinos accounted for 25% (1,687), whites accounted for 16% (1,094), and other races/ethnicities accounted for 5%.”
9 in 10 people will get HPV at some point their life. Most cases go away by themselves within two years.
50% of all people who are sexually active will get a sexually transmitted infection by the age of 25.
More than 290 million women have a human papillomavirus (HPV) infection (1).
More than one out of every six people aged 14 to 49 years have genital herpes.
The CDC offers “fact sheets”for the most prevalent sexually transmitted infections.
Awareness of protection
Preventing STIs is much better than trying to treat them, and the only truly “safe” sex is the kind that does not involve the exchange of bodily fluids. So outside of abstinence, this includes solo-sex (masturbation) and alternative acts such as “petting,” touching, or kissing your partner.
Creating a barrier by using condoms is the most effective way to guard against contracting an STI. Condoms should be used properly in order ensure their efficacy, which is from the moment of erection until after ejaculation in order to be effective. This goes for all kinds of penetrative sexual activity.
You should also use protection during oral sex to avoid contracting infection via saliva, blood, or undetected mouth sores. Condoms, dams, or other barriers should be used to reduce your risk during oral contact, particularly mouth-to-genital contact.
STIs can be transmitted in a variety of other ways—intravenous drug use, piercings tattoos, manicure/pedicure, unclean sex toys—all of which can involve contact with infected blood, semen, saliva or other fluid.
Awareness of treatment
Many young people don’t view diseases such as HIV as a threatening disease anymore, so many of them neglect to use protection simply because HIV is treatable, even though HIV isn’t the only STI to be concerned about.
STIs are diseases that are caused by either bacterial or virally. If the disease is bacterial it can be cured through the use of antibiotics; if it’s viral, it cannot be cured, but the symptoms can be treated and managed.
Bacterial STIs include chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, and pelvic inflammatory disease. These can all be treated with antibiotics and usually can be cured in a matter of days or weeks.
Viral infections include HIV, herpes, HPV, and hepatitis B. With the exception of HPV, these diseases are not curable and do not have vaccines, but the symptoms are managed. There is a vaccine for HPV, which is recommended for young people, ages 15 – 26.
Parasitic STIs, such as Trichomonas, or “trich,” the most common STI in America, are treatable with antibiotics and anti-parasitic medications.
Sexually transmitted infections can happen just like any other disease. We don’t stigmatize people with diabetes or high blood pressure—both of which are likewise preventable—so our sensitivity about sexual diseases should be assessed as part of the effort to combat the spread of these diseases.
With increasing numbers of those infected with STIs, awareness requires year-round education and training. People with STIs consider their infections to be embarrassing, but as a society, we can lower the risk of people going untested by changing how we look at STIs.
During this STI and STD Awareness month, take the time learn more about how you can avoid putting yourself at risk, and how you can get tested and treated so that you don’t unknowingly spread infections to your partner or other people.