A shocking new report shows that laidback attitudes about sex and myths about antibiotics are fueling an epidemic of STDs

By Charlotte Hilton Andersen
May 15, 2016

Everyone has wondered how they'll die when the time comes, but most people probably wouldn't think it would be from a sexually transmitted disease. Unfortunately, that's a real possibility now, because unsafe sex has become the number one risk factor for death and illness for young women worldwide, according to a shocking new report from The Lancet Commission.

Researchers studied the health of young adults aged 10 to 24 over a period of 23 years, looking at the major causes of death and poor health. At the beginning of the study, STDs weren't even in the top ten. But by the end, they ranked number one for women aged 15-24 and number two for young men in the same category. (ICYMI, the CDC has basically said We Are In the Midst of an STD Epidemic.)

What on earth is going on? We have more technology, information, and resources for safe sex than ever before, yet, according to the study, fewer and fewer young adults are using them-and are paying serious consequences for it. (Did you know more than half of men have never had an STD test?) It's hard to say for sure why people-young women especially-are turning away from safe sex, but "this trend isn't surprising based on the data we've been getting from the CDC and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists over the past few years, which shows a huge rise in the rates of STDs that we'd previously thought were almost gone, like chlamydia, syphilis, and gonorrhea," says David Diaz, M.D., a reproductive endocrinologist and fertility expert at Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center. (In fact, "Super Gonorrhea" Is a Thing That's Spreading.)

He attributes this rise to two harmful attitudes about sex that he hears frequently from his patients: The first is that people have more of a laidback attitude towards sex now than they used to (he says he sees more patients who have multiple partners or very casual relationships). The second is a strong belief that STDs aren't a big deal and are easily cleared up by an antibiotic. Unfortunately, those two attitudes can be a deadly combination.

"What people don't understand is that overtreating infections with antibiotics has lead to antibiotic resistance where the drugs either don't work or don't work as well as they used to," Diaz explains. "And in the meantime, when they think they're fine, they're spreading it to all their other partners. It just keeps spreading and spreading and spreading." (The World Health Organization actually considers antibiotic resistance a global threat as well.)

And it's women that have the most to lose, Diaz says. Despite popular rhetoric, it isn't about slut-shaming, but rather making sure women have all the information they need because these STDs are often symptomless at the beginning but can cause life-long health problems. "Leaving a chlamydia infection untreated for just one week is enough time to permanently damage the fallopian tubes," he explains. "Sadly, many women don't find out they were even infected until they try to get pregnant and discover they're now sterile."

The best solution is to insist on a condom all the time, every time, according to Diaz, even if your partner swears they're clean. (Here's How to Find the Best Birth Control for You.) "There's an attitude of invincibility, of thinking 'this won't happen to me', that leads young people to take risks, and it's a disaster waiting to happen," he says.

To make sure you don't become part of this scary stat, he recommends getting educated about STDs, getting tested regularly even if you don't have symptoms, and avoiding drinking if you're thinking of having sex, as alcohol blunts your judgment. Oh, and condoms-lots and lots of condoms!


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