Sexual Health Epidemic

Sexually transmitted infections are very common and costly to the nation’s health and economy.  In 1968 there were only two commonly known sexually transmitted diseases/infections (STIs) – syphilis and gonorrhea.  The World Health Organization says that now there are more than 30 STIs.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

  • 1 in 5 people in the U.S. have an STI.
  • There are 26 million new STI infections reported in America in 2018 at a cost of $16 billion in direct medical costs.
  • Almost half of new STI cases in 2018 were among youth aged 15-24.
  • In 2020, there were 2.4 million new cases of chlamydia, syphilis, and gonorrhea.
  • Every year, over 35,000 women and men experience cancers caused by a very common STI called Human Papillomavirus (HPV).
  • HPV is also the cause of 90% of oral cancers (tongue, mouth, and pharynx) through oral sex. The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2022 there were about 54,000 new cases of oral cancers in the U.S. and over 11,000 deaths from those cancers.
  • One out of every six people in the U.S. age 14 to 49 has genital herpes according to John Hopkins Medicine. Although there are treatments for herpes that often eliminate symptoms, it is lifelong, incurable, and still transmissible. 

Women often have much more serious health problems from STIs than men.

  • Infertility in women is often caused by Chlamydia, an STI which can cause permanent damage to the fallopian tubes, uterus, and surrounding tissue. Many of the young women affected with Chlamydia will never have children unless they can afford the expense of IVF.  The CDC says there were 1.6 million new cases of Chlamydia in 2020.  Many of those cases may not have any symptoms and go years before learning on their infection.
  • Approximately 12,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer annually in the U.S. Even with screening and treatment, about 4000 women die from cervical cancer each year.  Essentially, all cervical cancer is caused by HPV. According to the CDC, about 43 million Americans were infected with HPV in 2018 (13 million new infections), many among people in their late teens and early 20s. 
  • Genital herpes, syphilis and HIV can be passed to babies during pregnancy and at delivery. The harmful effects of STDs in babies may include stillbirth, low birth weight (less than five pounds), brain damage, blindness, and deafness.

According to the CDC, although condoms used consistently and correctly can reduce the risk of STIs, they do not offer complete protection.  Please see our Research Topic covering “Condoms”. The CDC states “[t]he most reliable ways to avoid transmission of STDs are to abstain from sexual activity, or to be in a long-term mutually monogamous relationship with an uninfected partner.”

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