Safety is sexy, chlamydia is not

Back in the day it was called VD for venereal disease. And then we had STD for sexually transmitted disease. At present, the medically appropriate term is STI, for sexually transmitted infection.

Back in the day it was called VD for venereal disease. And then we had STD for sexually transmitted disease. At present, the medically appropriate term is STI, for sexually transmitted infection.

The terminology changes, as does the awareness about them and the number of people afflicted. With an increase in education and awareness about condoms and STI testing, one might think that the numbers are going down. But the horizon ain’t totally rosy. Let’s check in on some stats of those with bacterial ants in the pants.

There is some good news, particularly on the increasingly less grim front of HIV/AIDS. New diagnoses of those with the virus have been relatively stable in Oregon since 1997, and they’ve been taking a slight decline in the last couple of years, hovering around 300 new cases a year in the state, but dipping to 270 in 2006.

Syphilis, too, has been a virtually nonexistent issue with a rate of 1.3 per 100,000 new Oregonians diagnosed with it in 2006. (As my doctor of a mother said, “Jesse, you really don’t need to worry about that unless you’re doing it with sailors or something.”) And Oregon’s rate of those newly diagnosed with any infection-for which data is available-is lower than the national average.

In some cases, however, our genital health is a little less jolly. Chlamydia rates, for example, have been on an aggregate rise in our state since a historic low in 1997. The rate then was 184.9 per 100,000 people. In 2006 it was 259.5. The scariest part about this is the fact that while chlamydia is often easily cured with antibiotics, the infection usually occurs with no symptoms, and as a result, often goes undiagnosed. The health consequences can be harsh, especially on women. In a report on recent STI trends, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) tells us “Up to 40 percent of females with untreated chlamydia infections develop PID, and 20 percent of those may become infertile.” The report goes on to say that while chlamydia complications among men are “relatively uncommon,” it can, in rare cases, cause sterility.

Gonorrhea rates, while having remained relatively stable in Oregon for the last few years (and even showing signs of going down), have a separate and frightening can of worms to deal with. Long dealt with as an infection cured by antibiotics, a fast-growing number of cases are turning out to be resistant to the leading class of antibiotics used to treat it. Of the cases tested through a CDC surveillance project in 2006, 13.8 percent were found to be resistant. Alternative antibiotics are now being used to treat it, but other drug-resistant strains exist, and alternative antibiotics can often come with higher prices and more side effects.

Not to mention diseases like HPV, which the CDC estimates half of sexually active people will get at some point in their lifetime and which men cannot be tested for. Or genital herpes, which, it’s estimated, one out of five adolescents and adults in the United States has. Scary stuff.

Finally, the fact that some rates of new diagnoses are stable is, quite bluntly, not good enough. A total 270 new diagnoses of HIV/AIDS a year in this state is 270 too many.

So what’s the deal in our age of supposed enlightenment? Most people are smart enough to not fuck total strangers without protection. Most of us are smart enough to know how to put on a condom, and most of us know that using the withdrawal method is about as safe as taking the MAX out to Gresham.

But having unprotected sex with anybody, no matter how well you know them, is still unprotected and unsafe. Urban myths, like the idea that putting on two condoms means double the protection (uh, not true, by the way) or that you can’t contract infections through oral sex, still persist. And condoms are effective, but like everything, they are not 100 percent.

So it bears repeating: If you are sexually active, use protection effectively and get screened for infections regularly. There are enough resources out there to get it done confidentially, cheap and without judgment. If your antsy untested partner is loath to the idea of protection, don’t forget that it’s not a matter of “Don’t you trust me?” It’s a matter of protecting yourself as well as your partner, every time, all the time.