CDC Reports 19 Million STDs Reported Each Year

CDC Reports 19 Million STDs Reported Each Year

Nearly 19 million sexually transmitted disease (STD) are reported each year in the United States and almost half of these infections occur among 15- 24 year-olds, according to the most recent report from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The full report, released two weeks ago, provides a startling insight into both the persisting magnitude of STD infection and the age, gender and race disparities that characterize the problem.

According to the CDC report, in 2008 girls age 15 to 19 accounted for nearly a third of the 1.5 million cases of chlamydia and gonorrhea in the U.S., the two most commonly reported STDs, followed closely by women aged 20-24. “This likely reflects a combination of factors, including biological differences that place females at greater risk for STDs than males, as well as higher STD screening rates among young women,” the CDC explains.

This disparity is even more startling along race lines. African Americans accounted for 70 percent of all gonorrhea cases in 2008, while representing only 12 percent of the population. The CDC claims this is one of the greatest disparities of any disease. Once again, this disproportionately effects young girls, with African American girls ages 15 to 19 having the highest rate of gonorrhea infection of any group—2,934.6 cases per 100,000.

Similarly, the rate of chlamydia infection among African American populations is more than eight times higher than that of whites, with the highest rate of infection among black girls ages 15 to 19, effecting over one in ten.

Additionally, the CDC reports that there were 13,500 reported cases of syphilis in 2008. This is the highest number of cases of syphilis, a disease which was nearly eradicated a decade ago, since 1995.  The resurgence of the disease is most prominent among men who have sex with men (MSM), accounting for nearly half of all reported cases. Women, on the other hand, account for just over 15 percent of reported cases.

So what does all this mean?—Depends who you ask.

In early November, the CDC also released a study of sex-ed programs across the U.S. The primary report found that sex education programs that taught contraception resulted in increased condom use and lower chances of contracting STDs. Additionally, the report claimed there was insufficient evidence to conclude whether or not abstinence-only programs were effective.  Many groups are now using the two new CDC reports to push for more funding for comprehensive sex education programs in public schools, while eliminating funding for abstinence-only programs.

However, two members of the research team released a minority report questioning the validity of the study’s conclusions. Amid other concerns, the minority report indicated that the study grouped together “heterogeneous” sex education programs, such as school programs and community education programs, in making calculations. “The resulting internal inconsistency in the results indicates there are many types of CSE [comprehensive sex education] programs that don’t work,” said Irene Ericksen, one of the minority report authors, “Yet the study concludes that CSE programs are broadly effective.”

It seems, however, that the CDC’s new report on STDs does not so much reflect on the need for either form of sex education. Rather it indicates a need for a broad shift in cultural expectations and standards when it comes to sexual behavior. Comprehensive sex-ed programs may reduce the number of infections, but it still reinforces cultural norms that teach that risky sexual behavior is acceptable if one is careful. Meanwhile, abstinence-only education cannot be effective when every other cultural and media message informs youth and other at-risk groups that early sexual intercourse with numerous partners is normal and acceptable. What is really needed is programs that will help shift cultural values to reject risky sexual behavior and media that promotes self-esteem, restraint and fidelity.

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