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The Myth of Safe Sex

Chattanooga Resource Foundation

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STDs Rampant

Of the top ten most frequently reported infections in the U.S. in 1997, 87% were sexually transmitted.[1]

In the 60s, there were only two widely recognized sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), syphilis and gonorrhea, both of which could be cured with antibiotics. Today, after the excesses of the sexual revolution, there are more than 25, half of which are incurable viral infections.[2]

Incidence of STDs

Approximately 400,000 Americans--as many as died in World War II--have died from AIDS-related illnesses. But did you know that an estimated 55 million Americans have an incurable viral STD other than HIV?[3] That's one out of five.

Every day, 33,000 Americans contract an STD. Two thirds of new STD infections occur in those under age 25.[4]

Number of new infections per year

(Those in italics are incurable.)

  • Human papillomavirus: 5.5 million[5]
  • Chlamydia: 4 million
  • Trichomoniasis: 2 to 3 million
  • Gonorrhea: 1 million
  • Genital Herpes: 500,000
  • Syphilis: 120,000
  • HIV: 45,000 [6]

Chlamydia

During 1995, more cases of chlamydia were reported to CDC than any other infectious disease.[7] Chlamydia, a bacterial STD, is known as the "silent epidemic" because three quarters of the women and half of the men with the disease exhibit no symptoms. Chlamydia is a cause of pelvic inflamatory disease (PID), a leading cause of infertility and ectopic pregnancy if left untreated. Those most susceptible are teens and young adults.[8]

Human Papillomavirus

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a collection of more than 100 types of viruses that often produce warts or papillomas, on various parts of the body. Most of these are harmless, but about 30 types are incurable STDs.[9] HPV is the most common incurable STD in the United States,[10] currently affecting nearly 20 million Americans.[11] Despite its widespread effect, the Centers for Disease Control does not track HPV.

HPV and Cancer

HPV causes 99% of all cervical cancers.[12] Cervical cancer is the number two cause of cancer deaths for women, after breast cancer, killing 5,000 women each year.[13] One out of every 50 American women will be diagnosed with cervical cancer.[14] HPV can also lead to vaginal, vulvar, penile, anal and oral cancer.[15]

HPV Transmission

HPV differs from other STDs in its method of transmission; it is not spread from one person to another through the exchange of bodily fluids. Rather, it spreads by skin-to-skin contact.[16 ]When condoms are used properly and consistently, which only occurs between 5% and 40% of the time, they do not prevent the spread of HPV.[17 ]Although "there is no study that shows that HPV is helped by condoms," the CDC still recommends condoms as protection against the disease.[18]

Infection Rate

Scientists estimate that between 30 and 75 percent of all sexually active adults are already infected with HPV.[19] Those most at risk are high school and college students. At one major American university, 60% of sexually active females were found to be infected with HPV.[20]

Safe Sex?

Where does that leave the "safe sex" campaign? One might answer, "with its trousers 'round its ankles."

Pregnancy and Promiscuity

Supplying teenagers with condoms inevitably produces a marked increase in their sexual activity. For example, when San Francisco's Balboa High School started giving students coupons they could exchange for condoms, the percentage of female students engaging in sexual intercourse jumped by one-fourth in just two years.[21]

Also at Balboa High, the percentage of sexually active students using condoms almost doubled[22] but, despite that supposedly positive change in student sexual behavior, the school's overall pregnancy rate increased by one-fourth.[23]

STDs and Teens

  • By age 18, more than one in four (27%) of churched teens have experienced sexual intercourse.[24]
  • Teens have higher contraceptive failure rates on every method.[25]
  • Diseases are not prevented and sometimes increased because of contraceptives due to an increase in the number of partners.[26]
  • Infections are more easily transmitted to young women than to men or to older women.[27]
  • Eight out of ten teens said they have felt pressure to have sex. Girls were more likely to say they felt pressure from their partners, while boys were more likely to cite pressure from friends.[28]
  • 74% of teenagers agree with the statement, "If Americans had higher moral standards... STDs would not be the problem they are today."[29]

Role of Parents

Teens consistently rate their parents as the greatest influence on whether or not they engage in sexual activity. This holds true regardless of economics, education, race, or family structure.[30]

References

[1] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Summary of Notifiable Disease -- United States. 1998.

[2] Cushman, C. Freedom from fear. World Magazine 15 (Jan. 22, 2000): 16--18.

[3] Donovan, P. Confronting a hidden epidemic: The Institute of Medicine's report on sexually transmitted diseases. Family Planning Perspectives 1997;29 (2).

[4] Eng TR and Butler WT, eds. The hidden epidemic: Confronting sexually transmitted diseases. Committee on Prevention and Control of Sexually Transmitted Diseases. Institute of Medicine. Washington, DC: National Academy Press; 1997.

[5] American Social Health Association. Sexually Transmitted Diseases in America: How Many Cases and at What Cost? Menlo Park, CA:Kaiser Family Foundation; 1998.

[6] Frequently Asked Questions. Unspeakable: The Naked Truth Abouth STDs. http://www.unspeakable.com/faq/faq.html (15 May 2001).

[7] Division of STD Prevention. Chlamydia Screening & Treatment Programs for Young Women. Centers for Disease Control. Press Release. March 1997.

[8] Division of STD Prevention. Some Facts About Chlamydia. Centers for Disease Control. http:// www.cdc.gov/nchstp/dstd/chlamydia_facts.htm (11 May 2001).

[9] Division of STD Prevention. Prevention of genital HPV infection and sequelae: Report of an external consultant's meeting. Department of Health and Human Services, Atlanta: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, December, 1999.

[10] Letter dated March 8, 1999, from Richard Tompkins, Ph.D., director of education and research, Medical Institute for Sexual Health, to Lisa Sanchez and Lakita Garth.

[11] American Social Health Association. Sexually Transmitted Diseases in America: How Many Cases and at What Cost? Menlo Park, CA:Kaiser Family Foundation; 1998.

[12] Wallboomers JM, Jacobs MV, Manos MM, et al. Human papillomavirus is a necessary cause of invasive cervical cancer worldwide. J Pathol, 1999;189: 12--19.

[13] The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. The Tip of the Iceberg: How Big Is the STD Epidemic in the U.S.? (December 2, 1998). http://www.kff.org:80/archive/repro/policy/std/std_qa.html.

[14] House of Representatives Concurrent Resolution 64, March 5, 1999.

[15] Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) -- What Is It? Sexual Health Update. The Medical Institute for Sexual Health. 2000;8 (1):1--2.

[16] HPV and Cervical Dysplasia Patient Information, Louisiana State University Medical Center, Midland Family Physicians-LSUMC Family Medicine Patient Education Home Page, 1996. http://lib-sh.lsumc.edu/fammed/pted/hpvmid.html.

[17] Finch, J. T., M.D. How Effective Are Condoms in Preventing Pregnancy and STDs in Adolescents? Medical Institute for Sexual Health. July 1997;4--11. Condom Sense: Is It Enough? Medical Institute for Sexual Health, June 1997.

[18] Sanchez, L. Cervical Cancer: House Hearing Raises HPV Reporting Issues. Daily Report. Kaiser Family Foundation. March 16, 1999.

[19] Boorstein, M. Sexual Virus HPV Poses Dilemma. Associated Press. Jan. 29, 1998.

[20] Ho, G. Y. F. Ho, et al. Natural History of Cervicovaginal Papillomavirus Infection in Young Women. New England Journal of Medicine. 1998; 338(7): 425.

[21] Kirby, D., et al. An Assessment of Six School-Based Clinics: Services, Impact and Potential. Center for Population Options. 1989;32--65; and Six School-Based Clinics: Their Reproductive Health Services and Impact on Sexual Behavior. Family Planning Perspectives, January/February 1991; pp. 6--16 & 11--12.

[22] Kirby, D., et al. An Assessment of Six School-Based Clinics: Services, Impact and Potential. Center for Population Options. 1989; p. 64.

[23] Before the condom coupon experiment began, 37 percent of the school's female students were sexually active, and the annual pregnancy rate was 5.9 percent per year (i.e., 37% x 16%). When the experiment ended two years later, 46 percent of the school's female students were sexually active, and the annual pregnancy rate among these girls was 16 percent, so the school's overall pregnancy rate was 7.4 percent per year (i.e., 46% x 16%, or one-fourth higher than when the experiment started). See 1991 Report, Table 3, p. 11, and Table 8, p. 15.

[24] McDowell, J. and Hostetler, B. Right from Wrong. City: Word. 1994, p. 55.

[25] Diggs, J.R.; Wallis, H.; Mohn, J.K., et al. A perspective on the medical implications of the virginity pledge among teens. The Physicians Consortium. 5 Jan. 2001, http://www.abstinence.net/ArticleDetail.cfm?ArticleID=229. (15 May 2001).

[26] ibid.

[27] American Social Health Association. Free Publications Help Young People Avoid STDs. Press Release, Public Relations Office. 23 Aug. 1996.

[28] The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. Adults and Teens Agree on Message for Teens: Abstinence First. Press Release. 25 Apr. 2001

[29] National Survey of 15 to 17 Year Olds: What Teens Know and Don't (But Should) About Sexually Transmitted Diseases. The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation /MTV/ Teen People, March 1999.

[30] Add Health. Journal of the American Medical Association. 10 Sept. 1997; 278(10).

The article can be found on the Chattanooga Resource Foundation website. Reprinted with permission.



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