Doctor and Patient

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released a report stating that the number of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) reported in 2017 broke the record set in 2016 by an additional 200,000 cases. Approximately 2.3 million cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis were reported in the United States.

Digging deeper into the data, since 2013, gonorrhea cases have increased by 67 percent and syphilis cases have increased by 76 percent. Those numbers are shocking. The CDC believes that STDs are a serious public health crisis, and given the data, they would seem to be correct.

Is It a Moral Issue?

Although venereal disease is a problem dating back generations, the ‘taboo’ nature of sex education seems to continually prevent our public school system from properly educating young people about their own bodies and how to have sex responsibly. Indeed, as of 2018, 37 states require abstinence education be provided, and 26 of those require abstinence education be stressed. And yet, a 2012 study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that comprehensive sex education was more effective in reducing teen pregnancy, HIV, and STDs than abstinence-focused education. Is the solution to STD reduction right in front of our face? Are STDs increasing because we fail to educate our young people on responsible sex?

Or are STDs on the rise, as some have suggested, due to moral decline? Evangelist Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham, sent out a series of tweets on August 29th. The first one in the series identified the CDC’s findings. The next two were as follows:

“An STD expert says that @POTUS should declare this a public health crisis. I believe what America has is a moral crisis and a spiritual crisis. And it manifests itself in many ways, including this public health crisis.”

“Sin always has a cost, a consequence. God loves us and wants to protect us. His Word tells us what to do: “Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body” (1 Cor. 6:18).”

But does Graham’s position align itself with the data? Experts don’t think that individual behaviors are the reason STDs are on the rise. It’s obvious that Graham’s definition of sexual immorality is anything outside of heterosexual sex in wedlock. However, this alleged immorality is not the cause of this public health crisis. The cause is knowledge and funding.

When you look at the focus of the funding, sexual health is clearly not a priority in modern America. The Trump Administration has removed Obama-era guidelines that awarded grants to organizations that used curriculums supported by evidence, in favor of the Republican standby of abstinence-focused education, which is overwhelmingly driven by the Christian moral of waiting until marriage. It would seem that in this case, ideology has trumped science.

These policies have real harm. STDs affect younger people at a higher proportion than other ages. Consider that many high school health classes spend just over four hours teaching about sexual health, which typically includes topics such as pregnancy, STDs and other general information. And most classes have an opt-out. Additionally, only 35% of those classes taught proper condom use. For perspective, most students will spend more than four classroom hours learning Hot Cross Buns on the recorder. Is four hours really enough time to learn everything you’ll need to know about sex?

Who Determines Sexual Ethics?

Graham believes that sexual morality would solve the problem. According to him, if everyone followed God’s set of standards, then STD rates would be much lower. But that doesn’t quite add up, especially given that the most religious part of the country, the South, also claims the highest rates of chlamydia and gonorrhea. It would seem abstinence-focused education also doesn’t work, because again, the highly religious South carries the highest rate of teen pregnancy.

The evidence is clear that the epidemic of STDs is a failure-- but one of education, not morality. Instead of stigmatizing STDs, we need to start talking about sex and how to stay healthy.

Category: Society

culture communication self care

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