Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), also known as sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are on the rise in the United States. Since April is STD Awareness Month, now is the perfect opportunity to have a real conversation with your partner(s) and your kids, because who you have sex with and how it happens affects everyone’s long term health.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that there are 20 million new STI cases each year. Half of those new cases occur in young people aged 15 to 24. Some sexually transmitted conditions, like crabs (pubic lice), are annoying, but don’t cause long term health problems. Other STIs, like herpes, there is no cure, but there are medications to prevent or shorten the course. HIV, although there is no cure, there are medications that can slow the progress of the disease or prevent complication and secondary infection.
But even the treatable STIs, like chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis, if ignored, have serious and permanent health consequences, including chronic pain, infertility, ectopic pregnancy – and, in the case of syphilis – even dementia and death.
That’s why the 19% increase in syphilis cases between 2014 and 2015 causes the CDC serious concern, and underscores this year’s STD Awareness theme: Syphilis Strikes Back.
Syphilis is caused by bacteria called Treponema pallidum and is spread by contact with a syphilis sore on the penis, vagina, anus or mouth. Syphilis occurs in three phases that, if untreated, can last more than 30 years.
Unfortunately, women who have untreated syphilis can pass the infection to their babies during pregnancy and child birth. A baby born with syphilis is said to have “congenital syphilis” (CS), which, according to the CDC, is rising at an alarming rate. CS causes deformation, blindness and deafness, seizures, stillbirth and miscarriage. Left untreated, babies with CS can have lifelong physical and mental problems, and even die within weeks of being born.
Anyone, regardless of race, age, gender, or class can get an STI. This is where the “how” of having sex is important: use of condoms is vitally important in preventing STIs for you, your partner(s), and even your unborn children. Condoms should be used the right way every time.
Along with condom use, communication with your partner(s) is key to getting the most out of a healthy sex life and protecting yourself: ask if your partner has ever had an STD; talk about what you want or don’t want; make good decisions for yourself.
Learning something new or changing jobs are healthy risks you should pursue for your happiness and well-being. But risking your physical health and that of everyone who has contact with you for the rest of your life to have unprotected sex is too risky. Remember: all forms of sexual activity carry some risk of becoming infected, so take precautions for yourself first, for your partner(s) and for your children.