Going by what Americans are telling pollsters, they’re having sex nine fewer times a year than back in the ‘90s. So what explains the national increase in sexually transmitted diseases? Chlamydia was up 21 percent last year, gonorrhea up 67 percent, syphilis up 76 percent — 2.3 million cases total, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The Dean of Rutgers University School of Public Health, Perry Halkitis, offers an explanation for this seeming contradiction. He points to high poverty levels and poor sex education standards as mutual culprits.
“I think the first thing to remember is you only need one time to transmit an STD. You don’t have to have lots of partners to get an STD — all you need is one partner who’s infected,” said Halkitis. “I think when people think about sex, they think about two things: they think about HIV, and they think about pregnancy. Gonorrhea, syphilis, chlamydia doesn’t cross their mind. They don’t know that some of these diseases can be transmitted orally.”
In New Jersey, where infection rates for all three common STDs have also spiked from 8 percent to 46 percent since 2012, he also finds a correlation between unprotected sex and the drug epidemic.
“When people have two drinks, or use opioids, or do meth, all rational decisionmaking goes out the door. So drugs are a huge factor in perpetuating the STD rates that we continue to see in our country,” Halkitis said.
The CDC recommends adults get tested for STDs once a year or if they start a new sexual relationship. New Jersey’s 17 Planned Parenthood clinics started offering free STD testing in April and will continue through September. They’ve tested 17,000 patients so far.
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