20 million new cases of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) appear each year in the U.S., and half of those new cases are suffered by young people. But there is good news mixed in with the bad news.
Communities that actively care are seeing STD rates drop.
Many communities across the U.S. are seeing rising rates of STDs among their populations. In some of these areas, funding has been cut for testing, or there may be inadequate sex education. If people don't understand the basics of STDs, including how they spread, how to spot symptoms, and how to seek help, they will remain infected and go on to infect others in the community.
In areas where there has been an ongoing effort to educate and provide free STD testing, rates for some STDs are falling. It is hoped that the towns and states dealing with increasing rates of STDs will take some lessons from communities that invest time and money in combating risky behavior due to ignorance. Devoting resources to STD-reduction efforts today saves communities from spending far larger amounts of money on future complications and tragedies.
There is ongoing research to develop programs that work.
One study will follow 300 high school sophomores as they work their way through a new web-based program designed to increase awareness about HIV and STD transmission. The program will have interactive features, videos, games, and skill-building exercises.
Rather than focus on facts alone, the online program goes through 5 modules that relate to human sexuality. It's designed to help teens find the words and the confidence to take control of their own sexual health.
Another control program is being administered for comparison, and students in both groups will be followed through their senior year. If the web-based program works, it may become a model for empowering at-risk teens nationwide.
People can use dating apps to end STD stigma.
Many infectious-disease researchers and physicians fear that all of the new social media dating apps are making casual sexual hookups easier than ever. It's not the sexual part that bothers the medical world, but the casual part.
People are not being cautious, and sexually transmitted disease seem to be increasing in places where dating apps are popular. There is also a vast lack of STD awareness among people whether they're using apps or not. When 11% of adults think HTML is an STD, there is clearly a lack of knowledge among some in the dating world.
But dating apps can be used for good. Dating apps are the perfect place to have open discussions and share information about the resources available to sexually active people. Participants and app sponsors should make it a goal to remove any stigmas or fears about open discussions of safe sex, STDs and HIV. When people have adult discussions about limits, protection, and testing, risks are reduced for all.
No one should fear being tested for an STD, and no one should be too afraid to ask if a partner is tested routinely. The best STD news of all is that there are places to receive free STD testing, so no one should ever let money stand in the way of their reproductive health.
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