With the number of sexually transmitted infections (STI’s) fluctuating since the late 1970s and early 1980s, prevention and abstinence programs have helped the battle against STI’s, but the number of reported cases of some infections have continued to rise.
At a time when STI outbreaks and awareness were sparked by the HIV/AIDS scare, many hoped that these programs would be the clear solution to disease control and prevention.
“People didn’t talk about STI’s as much,” said Mark Bajorek, medical director of the Student Health Center, adding that until the fear of getting a STI was actualized, such as getting herpes in the late 1970s, people were not as concerned. “The biggest scare was from AIDS in the 80s.”
Neither Bajorek nor Douglas Harger, program lead of the STI Program of the Oregon Department of Human Services, are sure whether or not the influx of STI awareness and advertisement about having safe sex has ever helped decrease STI’s at any particular time.
Case evidence on STI’s show that prevention and awareness campaigns may have had some degree of affect on people over the past three decades.
Harger said that last year saw a gonorrhea outbreak, with 1,562 cases reported in 2005 and 1,302 in 2004, compared to retaining numbers under 1000 nearly every year for the last ten years. These numbers are drastically different from the mind-boggling numbers of the 1970s.
Over that decade, ranging from 1970 to 1979, the average reported number of gonorrhea cases per year was 10,399.
One problem, Harger said, is that most people think an STI is something that only other people can get.
“Many people think, ‘It is only a certain kind of people’s brother or sister that will get an STI,'” Harger said.
He added that prevention has developed over the years, particularly with condoms use and knowledge about using them.
“Condom use is much better than it used to be,” he said. “Some porn directors even have flicks using condoms.”
“Choose not to be abstinent, and the next best thing is correct use of a condom,” Harger said. “Prevention is good and does work to certain extents.”
Some PSU students feel that their experiences in abstinence and prevention programs in high school were not exactly fruitful.
“I don’t think [the program] made it real for anybody,” said Amber Lauer, a junior at PSU who took was in a safe sex program during her sophomore year of high school. Lauer believes that the best kind of prevention against people getting STI’s is to make a more nationally recognized perception about sex and STI’s.
Adam Tomiak, a graduate student in law at Cornell University, feels that the time and teachings of these classes are inopportune.
“It would be better at a later age, when kids are more prepared,” he said, adding that teaching abstinence is more dictating lifestyle than presenting choice. “It’s tough not to alienate an audience.”
Harger said that a reason for the recent prominence in diseases such as gonorrhea, syphilis and Chlamydia was because the HIV/AIDS scare of the 1980s caused lack of research into other STI’s.
“A lot of money went to HIV,” Harger said. “If it hadn’t come on the scene, there might have been progress in other diseases. We think a lot of research on other STI’s was put on the backburner.”
The government did large AIDS prevention campaigns in the 1980s, Harger said, but the government doesn’t do a “stellar job” of advertising about STI’s.
“STI programs around the country are poorly funded,” he said.
Bajorek and Harger both said that even though abstinence is the only way to be positive about not contracting an STI, they believe pushing for abstinence programs to prevent STI is unrealistic.
“To recommend solely abstinence is limiting to one set of people,” Bajorek said. “If you can’t be abstinent, make sure you use a condom.”
However, Harger said, advertisement is a great too.
“I think what advertisement does is alert people to the problem,” he said.
Bajorek agreed, but said that fear is probably the best tool to prevent the spread of STI’s.
“The most effective thing is the fear of death,” he said.