STDs Are on the Rise: Time to Talk About Sex?

Talking about sex – either with a partner or your doctor – can feel awkward, embarrassing and extremely personal. Just initiating the conversation can be tough, causing waves of anxiety or fear of judgment.

STD cubes and stethoscope

However, it’s important to have these conversations and protect yourself. “Safe sex” may be a fairly well-known term, but many are failing to practice it, according to recent reports.

In 2018, sexually transmitted diseases (STD) reached an all-time high for the fifth year in a row, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Contrary to previous years, the CDC now estimates that one quarter of people who are sexually active are between the ages of 15 and 24 yet these young adults account for half of the 20 million new STD cases that occur in the U.S. each year. Infections with the highest spikes in 2018 include:

  • Chlamydia: 1.7 million cases, which is a 3 percent increase from 2017 – the most ever reported to the CDC, with almost two-thirds of cases among the 15-24 age group
  • Gonorrhea: 580,000 cases, which is a 5 percent increase from 2017 – the highest since 1991
  • Syphilis: 115,000 cases, with more than 35,000 cases being primary or secondary cases (the most infectious stages) – also the highest since 1991

Avoiding the uncomfortable talk may seem like the easy route. After all, if you or your partner were infected, you would have symptoms, right? You might also figure you had already been tested as a part of a regular checkup. Neither of these is necessarily true. Testing often will not happen unless you specifically request it. And some of the most common diseases, including chlamydia and gonorrhea, often have no symptoms.

When symptoms do appear, they may vary widely depending on the infection. They can include a burning sensation while urinating, discharge, testicular pain, visible sores in the infected area and bleeding between periods.

Even worse can be the complications of untreated STDs, which pose a serious risk for both men and women. For example, the HPV virus can cause cervical cancer and has been linked to other cancers. Young women infected with chlamydia can suffer chronic pain, risk of ectopic pregnancy and infertility.

Are you still deciding whether to have the sex talk with your doctor or partner? If so, consider these tips to help start that potentially unnerving conversation.

  • Find a doctor you’re comfortable with. Don’t be afraid to switch it up and find the right doctor – one who puts you at ease and seems trustworthy. Perhaps ask a friend or family member for a referral, or go to a clinic where you feel more anonymous.
  • Be prepared. Before heading into your appointment or conversation with your partner, know the questions you want to ask to help avoid hesitation.
    • Questions for your doctor could include: What type of birth control or protection is best for me? What types of tests should I be getting?
    • Questions for your partner could include: How many partners have you had sexual contact with? Have any of your partners had sexually transmitted diseases? Are you currently experiencing any symptoms?
  • Be honest. The flip side of having questions prepared is honestly answering questions asked of you. Share the full extent of your history, symptoms and habits.

Opening the conversation is not easy, but it will indicate to your partner that you care about their health as well as yours.

You can find information about practicing safe sex here