Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD) rates continue to rise in the U.S. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, even diseases like gonorrhea and syphilis, which were “at historic lows or close to elimination,” are on the rise.
STDs are preventable, but stigma inhibits people from having healthy conversations, from receiving regular testing, and even from seeking treatment.
It’s not that we don’t know how to stop the spread of STDs; the biggest roadblock is that too many of us just don’t want to talk about sex.
When we do talk about sex the conversation is, too often, not informed and non-inclusive. That’s a problem.
In the CDC report, Sexually Transmitted Disease Surveillance 2017, the Director of the Division of STD Prevention, Dr. Gail Bolan writes, “It is imperative that federal, state, and local programs employ strategies that maximize long-term population impact by reducing STD incidence and promoting sexual, reproductive, maternal, and infant health.”
There’s no way you can promote sexual health without talking about sex.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, only 24 states mandate sex education. Oddly enough, Guttmacher says 37 states mandate HIV education. More states are willing to talk about the consequences of having unprotected sex than are willing to talk about how to protect yourself if you do have sex.
The 2017 CDC report says that half of all STDs are among young people ages 15 to 24 years old, but fewer than half of high schools and only a fifth of middle schools are teaching the sexual health topics that the CDC considers “essential” for healthy young people.
Nine states don’t mandate sexual health or HIV education at all.
Personal beliefs often drive views of sexuality among individuals and institutions. That means that too many of the conversations surrounding sex exclude people or practices that are judged unacceptable or immoral by those controlling what’s being discussed.
That’s especially impactful on the LGBTQIA community, which is often left out of sexual health education, and often denied care by providers. Black men who have sex with men and transgender women are experiencing disproportionate rates of STDs because of stigma and lack of resources.
Six states have what are referred to as “no promo homo” laws, which prohibit or limit the mention of homosexuality and transgender identity in public schools. Stigma and marginalization have led to higher rates of bullying and suicide among LGBTQIA youth.
In the words of the iconic Salt-N-Pepa, Let’s Talk About Sex.
Much work needs to be done to introduce more informed and inclusive sex education in the classroom. But, no one can stop you from talking to each other.
Talk to your children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, cousins and neighbors about sex, and not just once. It needs to be a series of ongoing conversations that help prepare them for what’s out here.
And those conversations need to be real. Young children should know the correct names for their body parts. They should understand that other people shouldn’t touch them in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable.
By the age of eight, young people should be learning about puberty and how their bodies will change.
Experts believe that pre-teens are ready to talk about sex, protection, birth control and sexually transmitted infections.
The conversations may not be easy, but they are necessary. STD’s don’t discriminate on the basis of religion, race or class. They spread too often because the people who are having sex didn’t know there was a safer way.
I’m going to say it one last time, Let’s Talk About Sex! For more information about Planned Parenthood or to schedule a sexual health appointment visit www.plannedparenthood.org