But what about the STD Epidemic?

But what about the STD Epidemic?

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently announced their new strategic plan to End the Tobacco Epidemic. The strategy includes much bolder health warnings on cigarette packages and in cigarette advertisements, as well as color graphic images depicting the negative health consequence of smoking.  These new health warnings on the dangers of cigarette smoking will be the most significant change in more than 25 years.  “These actions are part of a broader strategy that will help tobacco users quit and prevent children from starting,” states the HHS press release.

This is a campaign that most citizens can get behind.  “Tobacco use is the leading cause of premature and preventable death in the United States, responsible for 443,000 deaths each year.  Thirty percent of all cancer deaths are due to tobacco,” continues the press release.  Those are startling statistics and particularly compelling when you remember that the damaging effects of tobacco could be prevented by abstaining from cigarette and tobacco usage.

But what about the epidemic of STDs?  Sexually transmitted diseases (or if you prefer, sexually transmitted infections or STIs) are wreaking havoc among the population—especially among our youth.

  • One in five children above age twelve test positive for herpes type 2
  • Nearly one in four sexually active teens have an STD
  • Half of all girls are likely to be infected with an STD during their first sexual experience.
  • Herpes (specifically herpes simplex type 2 or “genital herpes”) has risen 500 percent among white teens in the last 20 years
  • One in ten teenage girls has Chlamydia with half of all new case each year diagnosed in girls 15 to 19 years old.
  • Of girls ages 14-18, one in three has the human papilloma virus (HPV). HPV causes 99.7% of cervical cancer cases that kills over 5000 women each year.  (The highly promoted HPV vaccine has had minimal effect on this statistic to date.)

The HHS’s strategy for the epidemic of STDs is referred to as promoting “safe sex,” (later changed to “safer sex”).   But outside of marriage and a monogamous relationship, “safe sex” is a myth.  Birth control pills can prevent pregnancy, but they have no preventive power against any kind of STD.  Condoms can reduce the incidence of fluid-borne STDs, but have no affect on diseases spread by skin-to-skin contact such as herpes.  As one colleague not so delicately put it:  “You’d have to have an all-body condom!”  Even the reduction of fluid-born STDs is much less than most people think.  Take gonorrhea; studies show that it is spread 50 percent of the time even when a condom is correctly used.

There are no “risk avoidance” strategies proposed by the HHS for the STD epidemic; no effort to engage the public and change social norms; no focus on creating a society free from promiscuity-related disease and death.  Tobacco usage brings great harm to those who participate, but so does sexual promiscuity.  I wonder when HHS plans on acknowledging that fact.

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