What Women Need to Know about Sexually Transmitted Diseases; Women's Health; Scientific American Presents; by Koutsky, with sidebars by McKinsey and Holloway; 6 Page(s)
Half of all women will acquire one or more sexually transmitted infections during their reproductive years. Despite this dramatic statistic, most people think sexually transmitted diseases, or STDs, are rare. This misperception arises, in part, from the fact that people are often embarrassed to talk about sex, sexuality and genitalia. But frank discussion is needed. Every year 12 million or so new cases of STDs are reported in the U.S. The most common are chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis, which are caused by bacteria. The most widespread viral STDs are human papillomavirus (HPV), genital herpes, hepatitis B and human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV (the virus that causes AIDS). Among the consequences of these myriad STDs are ectopic pregnancy, infertility, preterm delivery, neurological disorders, arthritis, cardiovascular problems, cancer and even death.
This hidden epidemic primarily afflicts young people. Two thirds of STDs in the U.S. take place among people under the age of 25. This finding is not surprising: more than 60 percent of high school seniors report having had sexual intercourse, and 27 percent say they have had at least four partners. In 1971, 39 percent of young women between the ages of 15 and 19 reported having had more than one sex partner; in 1988 that figure reached 62 percent. There is no indication that this trend will reverse soon. Although our society does not condone adolescent sexual activity, the fact remains that teenagers are sexually active and that they are acquiring STDs with some painful consequences.