Why are Americans having less sex, but contracting more STDs?

BY Brenda Flanagan, Senior Correspondent |

Americans tell surveys that they have sex nine fewer times a year than back in the ‘90s. So what explains the current national explosion in sexually transmitted diseases? Chlamydia was up 21 percent last year, gonorrhea up 67 percent, syphilis up 76 percent — 2.3 million cases total, according to the CDC.

“People nowadays are more reliant on birth control methods and think that STDs have been more eradicated and don’t feel they have to use … condoms for the purpose of protecting themselves from STDs, but rather from pregnancy is more important to them,” said Parsipanny resident Neeket Patel.

“STIs and STDs aren’t as much of a concern now as they might have been a long time ago, so people might just be having more unprotected sex because they think they’re safer,” said New York City resident, Ajayi Robinson.

If people are having less sex, then why are more people contracting STDs? The Dean of Rutgers University School of Public Health, Perry Halkitis points to high poverty levels and poor sex education standards as mutual culprits. 

“I think the first think to remember is you only need one time to transmit an STD. You don’t have to have lots of partners to get an STD — all you need is one partner who’s infected,” said Halkitis. “I think when people think about sex, they think about two things: they think about HIV, and they think about pregnancy. Gonorrhea, syphilis, chlamydia doesn’t cross their mind. They don’t know that some of these diseases can be transmitted orally.”

In New Jersey, where infection rates for all three common STDs have also spiked from 8 to 46 percent since 2012, he also finds a correlation between unprotected sex and the drug epidemic.  

“If somebody has a lot of self-confidence in using a condom, they will use a condom. What those models tend to forget is that when people have two drinks, or use opioids, or do meth, that all rational decision-making goes out the door. So drugs are a huge factor in perpetuating the STD rates that we continue to see in our country,” Halkitis said.

The CDC recommends adults get tested for STDs once a year or if they start a new sexual relationship. New Jersey’s 17 Planned Parenthood clinics started offering free STD testing in April and will continue through September. They’ve tested 17,000 patients so far.

“We have been offering, on average, 2,000 tests a week, which is a 40 percent increase compared to last summer. So this is huge numbers of people that have been coming in. Access and education are two of the biggest reasons why STDs may continue to be going up,” said Casey Olesko, communications manager for the Planned Parenthood Action Fund of New Jersey.

So what can you do? Get tested. And, if you do get frisky, use protection.