Written by Dr. Ray Bohlin
Dr. Bohlin looks at data describing the huge increase in STDs in American, considers the causes of this increase, and proposes a Christian solution firmly rooted in a biblical worldview.
An STD Epidemic
Sexually Transmitted Diseases (or STDs) are at unprecedented and epidemic proportions. Thirty years of the sexual revolution is paying an ugly dividend. While a few STDs can be transmitted apart from sex acts, all are transmissible by the exchange of bodily fluids during intimate sexual contact. I want to discuss the severity of the problem as well as what must be done if we are to save a majority of the next generation from the shame, infertility, and sometimes death, that may result from STDs.
The information I am about to share is from data gathered by the Medical Institute for Sexual Health out of Austin, Texas.(1) All of these statistics are readily available from reputable medical and scientific journals.
Today, there are approximately 25 STDs. A few can be fatal. Many women are living in fear of what their future may hold as a result of STD infection. It is estimated that 1 in 5 Americans between the ages of 15 and 55 are currently infected with one or more STDs, and 12 million Americans are newly infected each year. That’s nearly 5% of the entire population of the U.S. Of these new infections, 63% are in people less than 25 years old.
This epidemic is a recent phenomenon. Some young people have parents who may have had multiple sexual partners with relative impunity. They may conclude that they too are safe from disease. However, most of these diseases were not around 20 to 30 years ago. Prior to 1960, there were only two significant sexually transmitted diseases: syphilis and gonorrhea. Both were easily treatable with antibiotics. In the sixties and seventies this relatively stable situation began to change. For example, in 1976, chlamydia first appeared in increasing numbers in the United States. Chlamydia, particularly dangerous to women, is now the most common STD in the country. Then in 1981, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the virus which causes AIDS, was identified. By early 1993, between 1 and 2 million Americans were infected with AIDS, over 12 million were infected worldwide, and over 160,000 had died in the U.S. alone. Over 10% of the total U.S. population, 30 million people, are infected with herpes.
In 1985, human papilloma virus (HPV), began to increase. This virus will result in venereal warts and will often lead to deadly cancers. In 1990, penicillin resistant-strains of gonorrhea were present in all fifty states.
By 1992 syphilis was at a 40-year high. As of 1993, pelvic inflammatory disease (PIV), which is almost always caused by gonorrhea or chlamydia, was affecting 1 million new women each year. This includes 16,000 to 20,000 teenagers. This complication causes pelvic pain and infertility and is the leading cause of hospitalization for women, apart from pregnancy, during the childbearing years.
Pelvic inflammatory disease can result in scarred fallopian tubes which block the passage of a fertilized egg. The fertilized egg, therefore, cannot pass on to the uterus and the growing embryo will cause the tube to rupture. By 1990, there was a 400% increase in tubal pregnancies, most of which were caused by STDs. Even worse is the fact that 80% of those infected with an STD don’t know it and will unwittingly infect their next sexual partner.
The Medical Facts of STDs
Syphilis is a terrible infection. In its first stage, the infected individual may be lulled into thinking there is little wrong since the small sore will disappear in 2 to 8 weeks. The second and third stages are progressively worse and can eventually lead to brain, heart, and blood vessel damage if not diagnosed and treated. The saddest part is that syphilis is 100% curable with penicillin, yet there is now more syphilis than since the late 1940s, and it is spreading rapidly.
Chlamydia, a disease which only became common in the mid-1970s, infects 20 to 40% of some sexually active groups including teenagers. In men, chlamydia is usually less serious; with females, however, the infection can be devastating. An acute chlamydia infection in women will result in pain, fever, and damage to female organs. A silent infection can damage a woman’s fallopian tubes without her ever knowing it. A single chlamydia infection can result in a 25% chance of infertility. With a second infection, the chance of infertility rises to 50%. This is double the risk of gonorrhea.
The human papilloma virus, or HPV, is an extremely common STD. One study reported that at the University of California, Berkeley, 46% of the sexually active coeds were infected with HPV. Another study reported that 38% of the sexually active females between the ages of 13 and 21 were infected. HPV is the major cause of venereal warts; it can be an extremely difficult problem to treat and may require expensive procedures such as laser surgery.
The human papilloma virus can result in precancer or cancer of the genitalia. By causing cancer of the cervix, this virus is killing more women in this country than AIDS, or over 4,600 women in 1991. HPV can also result in painful intercourse for years after infection even though other visible signs of disease have disappeared.
And of course there is the human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. The first few cases of AIDS were only discovered in 1981; now, in the U.S. alone, there are between 1 and 2 million infected with this disease. As far as we know, all of these people will die in the next ten years. As of early 1993, 160,000 had already died.
A 1991 study at the University of Texas at Austin showed that 1 in 100 students who had blood drawn for any reason at the university health center was HIV infected. While the progress of the disease is slow for many people, all who have the virus will be infected for the rest of their life. There is no cure, and many researchers are beginning to despair of ever coming up with a cure or even a vaccine (as was eventually done with polio). In 1992, 1 in 75 men was infected with HIV and 1 in 700 women. But the number of women with AIDS is growing. In the early years of the epidemic less than 2% of the AIDS cases were women. Now the percentage is 12%.
Teenagers Face a Greater Risk from STDs
Teenagers are particularly susceptible to sexually transmitted diseases or STDs. This fact is alarming since more teens are sexually active today than ever before. An entire generation is at risk and the saddest part about it is that most of them are unaware of the dangers they face. Our teenagers must be given the correct information to help them realize that saving themselves sexually until marriage is the only way to stay healthy.
The medical reasons for teens’ high susceptibility to STDs specifically relates to females. The cervix of a teenage girl has a lining which produces mucus that is a great growth medium for viruses and bacteria. As a girl reaches her 20s or has a baby, this lining is replaced with a tougher, more resistant lining. Also during the first two years of menstruation, 50% of the periods occur with-out ovulation. This will produce a more liquid mucus which also grows bacteria and viruses very well. A 15-year-old girl has a 1-in-8 chance of developing pelvic inflammatory disease simply by having sex, whereas a 24-year-old woman has only a 1- in-80 chance in that situation.
Teenagers do not always respond to antibiotic treatment for pelvic inflammatory disease, and occasionally such teenage girls require a hysterectomy. Teenage infertility is also an increasing problem. In 1965, only 3.6% of the married couples between ages 20 and 24 were infertile; by 1982, that figure had nearly tripled to 10.6%. The infertility rate is surely higher than that now with the alarming spread of chlamydia.
Teenagers are also more susceptible to human papilloma virus, HPV. Rates of HPV infection in teenagers can be as high as 40%, whereas in the adult population, the rate is less than 15%. Teenagers are also more likely than adults to develop precancerous growths as a result of HPV infection, and they are more likely to develop pelvic inflammatory disease.
Apart from the increased risk from STDs in teens, teenage pregnancy is also at unprecedented levels, over 1 million pregnancies, and 400,000 abortions in 1985. Abortion is not a healthy procedure for anyone to undergo, especially a teenager. It is far better to have not gotten pregnant. Oral contraceptives are not as effective with teenagers, mainly because teens are more apt to forget to take the pill. Over a one-year period, as many as 9 to 18% of teenage girls using oral contraceptives become pregnant.
Our teenagers are at great risk. In a society that has abandoned God’s design for healthy meaningful sexual expression within marriage, our children need to be told the truth about the dangers of STDs.
Is “Safe Sex” Really the Answer?
I must now take a hard look at the message of “safe sex” which is being taught to teens at school and through the media across the country.
Some people believe that if teens can be taught how to use contraception and condoms effectively, that rates of pregnancy and STD infection will be reduced dramatically. But the statistics and common sense tell us otherwise. At Rutgers University, the rates of infection of students with STD varied little with the form of contraception used. For example, 35 to 44% of the sexually active students were infected with one or more STDs whether they used no contraceptive, oral contraceptive, the diaphragm, or condoms. It is significant to note that condoms, the hero of the “safe sex” message, provided virtually no protection from STDs.
Will condoms prevent HIV infection, the virus that causes AIDS? While it is better than nothing, the bottom line is that condoms cannot be trusted. A study from Florida looked at couples where one individual was HIV positive and the other was negative. They used condoms as protection during intercourse. Obviously these couples would be highly motivated to use the condoms properly, yet after 18 months, 17% of the previously uninfected partners were now HIV positive. That is a one-in-six chance, the same as in Russian roulette. Not good odds!
Condoms do not even provide 100% protection for the purpose for which they were designed: prevention of pregnancy. One study from the School of Medicine Family Planning Clinic at the University of Pennsylvania reported that 25% of patients using condoms as birth control conceived over a one-year period. Other studies indicate that the rate of accidental pregnancy from condom-protected intercourse is around 15% with married couples and 36% for unmarried couples.
Condoms are inherently untrustworthy. The FDA allows one in 250 to be defective. Condoms are often stored and shipped at unsafe temperatures which weakens the integrity of the latex rubber causing breaks and ruptures. Condoms will break 8% of the time and slip off 7% of the time. There are just so many pitfalls in condom use that you just can’t expect immature teenagers to use them properly. And even if they do, they are still at risk.
Studies are beginning to show that school-based sex education that includes condom use as the central message does not work. A study in a major pediatric journal concluded that “the available evidence indicates that there is little or no effect from school-based sex-education on sexual activity, contraception, or teenage pregnancy.”(2) This study evaluated programs that emphasized condoms. Over $3 billion dollars has been spent on sex- education programs emphasizing condoms with little or no effect! In addition, programs that emphasize condoms tend to give a false sense of security to sexually active students and make those students who are not having sex feel abnormal. Hardly the desired result!
The list of damages from unmarried adolescent sexual activity is long indeed. Apart from the threat to physical health and fertility, there is damage to family relationships, self-confidence and emotional health, spiritual health, and future economic opportunities due to unplanned pregnancy. Condom-based sex-education does not work.
Saving Sex for Marriage is the Common Sense Solution.
I have been discussing the epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases that is running rampant in this country and around the world. Diseases such as chlamydia, human papilloma virus, herpes, hepatitis B, trichomonas, pelvic inflammatory disease, and AIDS have joined syphilis and gonorrhea in just the last 30 years. There is no question that the fruits of the sexual revolution, or sexual convulsion as one author put it, have been devastating. I have also shown how our teenagers are at a greater risk for sexually transmitted diseases than are adults and that sex-education based on condom use is ineffective and misleading. There is only one message that offers health, hope, and joy to today’s teenagers. We need to teach single people to save intercourse for marriage.
Sex is a wonderful gift, but if uncontrolled, it has a great capacity for evil as well as good. Our bodies were not made to have multiple sex partners. Almost all risk of STD and out of wedlock pregnancy can be avoided by saving intercourse for marriage. And it can be done.
Statistics show clearly that in schools that teach a sex education program that emphasizes saving intercourse for marriage, the teen pregnancy rate drops dramatically in as little as one year. In San Marcos, California, a high school used a federally funded program (“Teen Aid”) which emphasizes saving intercourse until marriage. Before using the program there were 147 pregnancies out of 600 girls. Within two years, the number of pregnancies plummeted to 20 out of 600 girls.(3) In Jessup, Georgia, upon instituting the “Sex Respect” program, the number of pregnancies out of 340 female students dropped from 17 to 13 to 11 to 3 in successive years.
Delaying intercourse until teens are older is not a naive proposal. Over 50% of the females and 40% of the males ages 15 to 19 have not had intercourse. While not a majority, they are living proof that teens can control their sexual desires. Current condom-based sex-education programs basically teach teenagers that they cannot control their sexual desires, and that they must use condoms to protect themselves. It is not a big leap from teenagers being unable to control their sexual desires to being unable to control their hate, greed, anger, and prejudice. This is not the right message for our teenagers! Teenagers are willing to discipline themselves for things they want and desire and are convinced are beneficial. Girls get up early for drill team practice. Boys train in the off-season with weights to get stronger for athletic competition. Our teens can also be disciplined in their sexual lives if they have the right information to make logical choices. Saving sex for marriage is the common sense solution. In fact, it is the only solution. We don’t hesitate to tell our kids not to use drugs, and most don’t. We tell our kids it’s unhealthy to smoke, and most do not. We tell our kids not to use marijuana, and most do not.
It is normal and healthy not to have sex until marriage. Sexually transmitted diseases are so common that it is not an exaggeration to say that most people who regularly have sex outside of marriage will contract a sexually transmitted disease. Not only is saving sex for marriage the only real hope for sexual health, it is God’s design. God has said that our sexuality is to blossom within the confines of a mutually faithful monogamous relationship. What we are seeing today is the natural consequence of disobedience. We need to reeducate our kids not just in what is best, but in what is right.
1. Medical Institute for Sexual Health, P.O. Box 4919, Austin, TX 78765.
2. I.W. Stout, et al., Pediatrics, 1989, 83:376-79.
3. Joe S. McIlhaney, Jr., Safe Sex (Grand Rapids, Michigan; Baker Book House, 1991), p. 86.
© 1993 Probe Ministries International