Sexually transmitted disease rates rose between 2011 and 2012, driven largely by spikes in gonorrhea and syphilis infections among men, according to the Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) annual survey on STDs. The higher infection rates were largely concentrated among young people and gay or bisexual men.
The entirety of the 11 percent increase in syphilis infections, for instance, was among men, with the rate rising by 15 percent for men who have sex with men (MSM) and four percent for men who have sex with women (MSW). While the overall number of gonorrhea cases remained higher among women in 2012, the rate of increase was far higher among men (8.3 percent) than it was for women (0.6 percent).
Government officials noted that STDs, which cost the U.S. health care system about $17 billion to treat every year, remain particularly concentrated among young Americans aged 15 to 24. In fact, of the estimated 20 million new infections reported every year, a full half occurs among that age group. People under 25 represent 70 percent of all chlamydia cases even though they make up just a quarter of the sexually active population — and officials say the numbers are almost certainly higher, as many Americans don’t get screened for infections and are unaware that they may have an STD.
Public health advocacy groups said the new data underscores the need for greater sexual health resources for young people, especially access to condoms and comprehensive sex education.
“This data demonstrates the continuing need to educate young people about the risks of sexually transmitted diseases and the best methods of prevention,” wrote Planned Parenthood in a statement on the survey. “Scientific research demonstrates that condoms are an especially effective tool in preventing STD infection. Planned Parenthood works every day to provide young people with the information and resources they need to make healthy decisions and keep themselves safe.”
Many states don’t have adequate sex education standards or bar school districts from teaching anything other than abstinence education. And even in the states that do set sufficient school standards, ensuring effective sex ed instruction can be difficult. For instance, a recent study by a California public health group found that over 60 percent of all Oakland high school students never receive any sex ed — even though the Golden State sets comprehensive standards for all schools. The report noted that education budget cuts drove the disparity between official requirements and the reality faced by students.