Reported cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis have risen for the first time since 2006, according to a new report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Getty Images)
The CDC’s 2014 STD Surveillance Report, which was released on Tuesday, paints a disturbing picture. Among the data, chlamydia cases are up 2.8 percent since 2013, and gonorrhea cases are up 5.1 percent. Syphilis cases increased by a whopping 15.1 percent.
“STDs continue to affect young people —particularly women — most severely, but increasing rates among men contributed to the overall increases in 2014 across all three diseases,” the CDC said in a press release.
STD cases are increasingly sharply among gay and bisexual men, and primary and secondary syphilis (the most infectious stages of syphilis) have been on the rise among men who have sex with men since 2000. In 2014, 83 percent of male cases of syphilis were from gay or bisexual men.
Not surprisingly, young people are at the highest risk of acquiring an STD. The data found that people between the ages of 15 and 24 made up almost two-thirds of all reported cases of chlamydia and gonorrhea, but CDC researchers say there may be even more undetected cases.
Unfortunately, women are the most impacted by these increases. “In terms of anatomy, vaginas leave women more exposed and vulnerable to sexually transmitted infections (STIs) than male anatomy, since the penis is covered with skin which serves as a good barrier for several STIs,” Herbenick explains. “Then there are issues of gender and power, and many women feel unable to insist on condom use, even when they want to use a condom.”
The news sounds disturbing — and it is, sexual health expert and certified sex therapist Kat Van Kirk, PhD, tells Yahoo Health.
“Unfortunately I am not surprised by these findings,” she says. “Many smaller communities have noticed a rise in STDs just this year. I have also noticed a much more lackadaisical attitude from clients in regards to STD transmission in the last year.”
Debby Herbenick, PhD, associate professor at Indiana University School of Public Health and author of “Sex Made Easy” echoes the sentiment, telling Yahoo Health that the findings are “very important.”
But why is this happening? Herbenick says a few factors may be at play, and a relaxed attitude toward condom use and testing for sexually transmitted infections are largely to blame.
Better STD medications and a lowered fear of contracting an STD, including HIV, may also be a factor. “While the availability of the HIV prevention drug Prep has been hugely beneficial, it has also led to lower condom use and therefore higher rates of other STDs which the medication does not protect users from,” Van Kirk says.
Increased use of Long Acting Reversible Contraceptives (LARCs), which include intrauterine devices and implants, could be to blame as well, Herbenick says. “They are wonderful for preventing pregnancy but don’t do anything in terms of STI prevention,” Herbenick says. Women who use LARCs may feel that they’re protected, she explains, even though they’re not.
Inconsistent sex education standards across the U.S. and an increase in casual hookup sex could also be factors, says Van Kirk.
But experts say there are several solutions — and they’re all fairly easy to implement.
The biggest: Use condoms. Herbenick encourages people to use condoms for at least one month longer than they feel they should with a new partner and never to stop using condoms until they and their partner have both been tested for STIs.
Herbenick also stresses that more people need to be tested for STDs, including those who recently had a break-up or divorce, people who have never been tested, people who have been cheated on or have cheated on a partner, and those who are entering a new relationship.“I cannot encourage STI testing enough!” Herbenick says.
For more information on the new data, please visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website.