The number of reported cases of sexually transmitted diseases and/or infections, STDs/STIs, in the U.S. is on the rise, and the numbers of some cases are rising at an alarming rate, according to a report released by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC. The report also shows that the portion of the population that is most at risk for contracting STDs is still those between the ages of 15 and 24 years old, i.e., high school and college students.
The report, released November of last year, shows among the nationally notifiable STDs the two that affect young people the most are gonorrhea and chlamydia. The reported cases of the two diseases each increased by 5.1 percent and 2.8 percent, respectively, since 2013.
In addition, a fairly new STI known as Mycoplasma genitalium is also on the rise among people in the same age group.
Young people are the age group that gets the most disproportionate numbers in STD cases. Even though people within the ages of 15 and 24 are a relatively small portion of the sexually active population, this group accounted for the highest rates of chlamydia and gonorrhea in 2014 and made up almost two-thirds of all reported cases of the diseases.
In response to the CDC's report, MSU Writing, Rhetoric and American Cultures professor Stephanie Amada has a few theories. Amada, who teaches "Women in America," a writing class that touches on these issues, wrote a book called "Hooking Up: A Sexy Encounter with Choice," which explores hookup culture.
"One of the things that I think drives hookup culture is alcohol, and when you have people who are very drunk, and then having casual sex, using condoms is not the first thing they are thinking about," Amada said.
Issues stemming from lack of communication could also be leading to the increase.
"(Lack of communication) leads to all kinds of problems, but one of them is not using condoms," Amada said. "There's this fear that it's (using a condom) going to disrupt the moment, it's going to 'kill the mood.' So, people don't want to interrupt to ask, or insist, which maybe is what ought to be happening."
Amada, who primarily speaks to women about this topic in her "Women in America" class, said much of the resistance to condom usage often comes from men.
"What I hear from the women is that men just won't use (condoms)," Amada said. "I don't know why the women won't insist. I don't know why the women don't just say, 'well, forget it, then,' but that doesn't seem like it's happening."
When it comes to modern technology in hookup culture, Amada believes it plays a minor role, if any.
"I'd be reluctant to say that I think social media and apps like Tinder have led to a rise in STIs, but I do think they have contributed to the difficulty in talking about what is, you know, a difficult conversation to have," Amada said.
What can you do?
The three STDs that are on the biggest rise, gonorrhea, chlamydia and syphilis, can all be easily cured, usually without any serious, long-lasting symptoms, if caught early enough.
To catch the diseases as soon as possible, however, it is important for one to get regularly tested. For MSU students, tests for numerous STDs are available at the Olin Health Center, located on campus. HIV testing is available free of charge when done anonymously through their Health Promotion department. Confidential testing for HPV, HIV, gonorrhea, syphilis, herpes, and chlamydia is available through Olin's Primary Care and Women's Health clinics at a charge.
The testing program Olin has put in place is certainly a vital resource in the fight against STDs, but their emphasis and work on the awareness and prevention of STDs is perhaps even more important.
"The most important thing to know about STIs is that they are preventable," Erica Phillipich, Sexual Wellness Program coordinator at Olin, said. "With that being said, there aren't a lot of places that sexuality or sexual health are discussed, so the first step is having access to medically accurate information. We provide that information in a variety of ways at MSU."
Information, however, is not the only thing that Olin provides to students.
"In addition, we provide a robust condom distribution program (Condom Connection) for students, where we distribute over 25,000 condoms throughout the residence halls," Phillipich said. "Each (Condom Connection) pack includes information on how to use a barrier (a condom) to help prevent infections."
Phillipich also had some advice for the students at MSU.
"The most important factor to consider when thinking about preventing STIs is communication," Phillipich said. "Knowing your status, and asking your partner(s) about their testing history and status, are integral to the prevention of STIs."
Editor's Note: A previous version of this article misstated that all STD testing was available at Olin Health Center free of charge. It has since been corrected. Only HIV testing is available free of charge when done anonymously through Olin's Health Promotion department.