For the first time since 2006, sexually transmitted diseases are on the rise, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Specifically, an increased number of cases have been reported for chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis.
While this is bad news all around, it’s especially bad news for women, as women seem to be particularly at risk. The logical question to ask when discovering this is, why are sexually transmitted diseases on the rise and why are women being more affected than men? How can sexually active women protect themselves?
Why Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) Are On the Rise
Experts have been monitoring trends and conducting studies on sexually transmitted diseases for years, and they’re finding that STDs have been on the rise in recent years. Their educated assumptions are that this is because of a few different factors:
Fewer people are getting tested annually
If you are sexually active, no matter what age, particularly with multiple partners, you should be getting tested annually for STDs. If you are a woman, you should also be getting a pap smear done to test for particular STDs and other potential health issues every 2-3 years, starting at age 21. You may not be showing any symptoms, but that doesn’t mean you’re in the clear. Most STDs are spread by individuals that don’t know they have them, which is why you should (at least for the sake of your sexual partners) make sure to get tested annually even if you aren’t showing any symptoms.
Casual sex is now a cultural norm
Casual sexual hookups are considered very normal among individuals under the age of 30, in particular. And with inconsistent sex education standards across the U.S. (and globally), this can lead to an increase in STDs amongst those who don’t know any different or how to protect themselves.
False sense of security from a lack of education
Did you know that most male condoms are only 98% effective? Did you also know that they can’t protect you from all STDs? Many people assume that because they are using a form of protection that they are completely protected, and that’s just not the case. Even birth control isn’t 100% effective and it can’t protect you from STDs. This is why it’s so important to know your own STD status and that of your sexual partner. You can never assume that you’re safe because you’re using protection.
Why Women are Getting STDs More Frequently Than Men
Unfortunately, experts have discovered that women are more susceptible to and are increasingly seeing STDs more than their partners. There are a few reasons this may be the case, according to experts:
- A woman’s anatomy is more exposed and vulnerable to STDs than male anatomy, as her vagina is thinner and more delicate, making it easier for bacteria and viruses to penetrate.
- Some women don’t feel comfortable insisting on the use of condoms
- Women are increasingly looking to intrauterine devices and implants to prevent pregnancy, but these don’t protect against STDs
Not only are women getting STDs more frequently than men, but they are also having greater difficulty knowing when they have them. STDs can be difficult to recognize because:
- STD symptoms can sometimes be confused with health issues like yeast infections
- Genital ulcers from herpes or syphilis can appear in the vagina and may not be visible to a woman (but would be visible for her doctor during an appointment)
- Chlamydia and gonorrhea are two of the most common STDs, and they don’t usually have symptoms, which means many individuals go undiagnosed for these. What this means for women is that they are more susceptible to pelvic inflammatory disease or permanent damage to their reproductive system.
Chlamydia has been known to cause ectopic pregnancies (pregnancies outside the womb), and syphilis can lead to serious health issues like blindness and infertility.
Add to all of this that women can pass STDs to their babies, potentially causing stillbirths, low birth weights, brain damage, deafness and blindness. So for women, it’s especially important to get tested, even if you don’t think you could have an STD or are showing any symptoms.
Preventing and Treating STDs
Even though you may have not known before that STDs were such a concern, you do now and you can do something about it! There are vaccines to help prevent STDs, and there are treatments for most STDs if you discover that you have them.
Your first step is to schedule an appointment with a gynecologist to get tested and to get caught up on any vaccines that you aren’t currently on. And while you’re meeting with your gynecologist, don’t be afraid to ask questions! That’s what we’re here for and we’d love to help. Schedule an appointment with us today!