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The STD Epidemic

What Is It, and How Bad Is It?

Humorist P.J. O'Rourke observed, "The sexual revolution is over.  The microbes won."

We're all too familiar with those microbes today:  HIV/AIDS, genital herpes, chlamydia, increasingly drug-resistant strains of gonorrhea and syphilis.  You should know that latex condoms aren't particularly effective in preventing the spread of many STDs.

Some statistics are in order:

In 1999, according to the director of the National Cancer Institute, 20 million women had human papilloma virus (HPV), a common precursor to cervical cancer.  Some 30-50 million people suffer from genital herpes, a number hard to determine because of the nature of the infection.  According to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, a quarter of all new HIV cases are contracted by youth less than 21 years of age.  One in ten active teenage homosexual male is infected with HIV.

In fact, condoms do not work as well as we are taught to believe.

A federal government report Scientific Evidence on Condom Effectiveness for Sexually Transmitted Disease Prevention was released in 2001 by the National Institutes of Health and endorsed by the CDC, the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Agency for International Development. 

According to the report, while latex condoms used properly did provide a high level of protection against the transmission of HIV/AIDS, there was not enough evidence to support their effectiveness against most other STDs.  For instance, the report states that condoms provided only "some risk reduction" for gonorrhea in men; "no clinical proof of effectiveness" was found for women.

Whatever protection condoms offer; is provided only with consistent use.  According to the CDC, consistent condom use "means using a condom every time you have sex—100% of the time—no exceptions…. Used inconsistently, condoms offer little more protection than when they are not used at all."

Are condoms used properly and consistently?  A summary article from the American Journal of Public Health stated that in "national surveys and other large scale studies, only 5-17 percent of individuals reported using condoms for each episode of intercourse.  In smaller, less representative studies, 29-41 percent reported using condoms for every sexual contact during the time periods studied."

Not just intercourse…

Unhealthy teen sexual activity is not just limited to intercourse.  Two trends are growing among teens.  First, oral sex is increasing.  "Our anecdotal evidence shows that kids think [oral sex] is considerably safer behavior than vaginal sex," commented Cory Richards, of Alan Guttmacher Institute, in USA Today. "In some respects it is. The risk of pregnancy is not there. But the risk of STDs is definitely there."  Some kids are choosing oral sex because they think it is a "safe" alternative, and they are wrong.  Any STD that can be transmitted through vaginal sex can also be transmitted through oral sex. 

Unfortunately, oral sex has become very common, even casual, too many teens.  Reports have even surfaced of oral sex "trains" and parties.  According to a Washington Post article, in 1999 oral sex was becoming more common among middle-school-aged students, and an additional article in April 2000 quoted one psychologist that oral sex was "like a good-night kiss to [middle-school students]."

Second, cyber-sex is a recent trend that is posing a threat to kids.  It can take place in any chat room on the Internet, not just on pornographic websites.  The danger may be primarily emotional, but, when graphic words and images are exchanged on the Internet, a destructive attitude toward sexual activity can be formed.  Not to mention, many online encounters result in physical encounters that can be dangerous and sometimes even deadly as adult sexual predators search online for their next victims.