Recent studies have shown STD rates rising at astronomical rates across the entire country. In our own state, between 2013 and 2014, new cases of syphilis rose 79%, gonorrhea increased 30%, and the rate of HIV grew by 33%. And these are the reported cases, statistically shown to be only half of all infections. Many people who carry disease are asymptomatic — beautiful people with HIV, herpes and chlamydia who have no idea they are ill, much less infectious.
The RI State Department of Health (RIDH) credits this trend to recent increases in high-risk behavior. Research at NYU found Craigslist to be guilty of causing a 16% increase in HIV between 1999 and 2008. Grindr, a social app for gay men, apparently spawned half of all new cases of syphilis in New Zealand in 2012.
If you look at the current Center for Disease Control statistics, the highest risk group consists of gay males between the ages of 15 and 24. Bisexual women and heterosexual men and women developed more STDs than lesbians. Of the top 10 states with the greatest percentage of STDs, all but New York were southern states with lower levels of income and education. Blacks and Hispanics contracted syphilis in disproportionately high numbers.
But there was something else I could see along with the burgeoning epidemic: On educational sites, surveys show that the states with the most new STDs also had the least amount of sex education in schools. In Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, abstinence is often preached. Describing the use of condoms is considered pornographic.
Rosemary Reilly, an HIV/AIDS specialist for RIDH, has a better idea: education is essential for every sexually active individual. The danger is so great now. In recent outbreaks of syphilis, high rates of HIV co-infection were also documented, sometimes up to 70%. The genital sores of syphilis make it easier to transmit the virus.
Unfortunately, the highest risk group consists largely of teens, with brains that have not yet matured enough to realize the extent of consequence. Authority’s dire threats are fairy tales told by adults who demand respect while they act like children. The natural urges of gay teens make them the targets of derision and shame. What is more natural than to hide all activity from parents and teachers and ignore advice from a glowering authority figure? Clear, straight-forward education is key.
The sexual drive of a human being is never as strong as when we are below the age of consent, without fully rational minds. We forget that as adults, and are horrified at the sensuality of 15-year-olds. But neither our horror nor suppression will stop their sexuality. There is a want in people that cannot be denied. It is born with us and grows like a seed. Keeping it in darkness only serves to twist it, like a wormy plant grown without light.
The cost to our country is astronomical. STDs drain the economy of 16 billion dollars a year. And yet another disturbing fact: the rising teen suicide rate includes a percentage of deaths due to auto asphyxiation during masturbation. Parents cover up evidence and pretend it is accidental. But although 45% of teen suicides are from firearms, 40% are due to suffocation, “including strangulation.” Not all are hanging from rafters.
It is time that sex education became mandatory in our schools, but more importantly, a reality has to be faced. Young people want to have sex, no matter what we believe or wish they would do. Disapproval and suppression only drive them to secret places … and who bothers to think of condoms or consequence there?
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