The startling and alarming rise in sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) among young people aged 15 to 24 and gay males in this country, and learning that fully half of the population of those aged 15 to 24, which numbers about 110 million men and women in the United States, are afflicted with chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, human papilloma virus (HPV), HIV and other sexually transmitted infections – should be a wake up call for everyone.
Local and state figures mirror the national figures from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), where up to 70 percent of sexually active young adults had been infected with gonorrhea. Many young people, both straight and gay, are under the misguided – and false – assumption that these STDs are something that have been left in the past.
The problem is that many of these infections, while potentially treatable, have few if any symptoms, so sexually active individuals pass them on and on and on, and can eventually have serious health complications when left untreated. "Fooling around" is fun, and part of youth – impulsively reacting to emotions, risky behavior, and the feeling of invincibility – can lead to not only pain and infections, but to long-term damage to both female and male reproductive organs, infertility, cancer and even death.
Sexually active individuals must be tested on a regular basis, and we were pleased to learn that testing is available and affordable throughout Oakland County, both through the Oakland County Health Department, at their Pontiac and Southfield offices, as well as MAC Health program, part of Matrix Human Services, which since 1988 has been testing for HIV/AIDS at bars, clubs and bathhouses. Two years ago, due to the rise of STDs, they received funding from three foundations to test for STDs as well at these sites.
But the single greatest issue that struck us over and over again in researching the article on STDs in this month's issue was the lack of knowledge most young adults have about STDs, their symptoms, or lack of, and their implications. We fault the state legislature for mandating an abstinence-only sex education for students in Michigan schools, where students receive limited information on sexually transmitted diseases.
Local school districts provide information through sex education classes, to varying degrees depending upon the district. According to the Michigan Department of Education, by Michigan law, school districts are required to teach about dangerous communicable diseases, including, but not limited to HIV/AIDS, at least once a year at every building level (elementary, middle, high school), but school districts can choose to teach sex education. From those districts we contacted, the conversation regarding sexually transmitted disease was something only included in sex education classes once in high school, for one to three days.
As one health care educator noted, the lack of repetitive education, which is effective in math, language, science, and every other subject, is lacking in this subject, with its potentially life-altering implications. We are experiencing the skyrocketing numbers from the lack of adequate education as a result.
Our young people deserve better.