America, it seems, is more sex-crazed than ever.
With social media sites offering a wide array of services, from bestiality and rape videos to animated erotica, Americans are fantasizing about sex more than ever.
But they’re also “doing the nasty” at ever-increasing rates – and apparently, with less protection, too.
How do we know? Just look at the latest data on sexually transmitted diseases, or STDs.
Chlamydia, for example, reached more than 1.7 million cases in 2018, an increase of 3 percent over the previous year. And gonorrhea – the “clap” — reached nearly 600,000 cases in 2018.
That’s a 5 percent increase over 2017. In fact, it’s the highest number of cases recorded since 1991.
But the most striking example, perhaps, is syphilis, which rose by a whopping 15% in 2018. About 35, 000 of the most deadly forms of syphilis were reported last year — again the highest number since 1991.
What’s going on? Some specialists attribute these increases to better reporting of STDs. That’s a factor no doubt. But it’s just as likely that Americans are having more unprotected sex than ever. In fact, they’re likely doing it multiple sex partners at the same time – another important risk factor for STDs.
Chlamydia and gonorrhea exhibit similar symptoms – usually in the form of a smelly discharge from the penis or vagina, swollen genitals, and pain, itching and burning during urination or defecation — and it’s not always easy to distinguish the two.
Chlamydia poses a special risk to women. Left untreated, it can spread upward to the uterus and fallopian tubes and result in a condition known as pelvic inflammatory disease, or PID. In fact, PID can become extremely dangerous, even life-threatening, if the infection spreads to a woman’s blood.
The sharp rise in syphilis cases may be the most disturbing of the three trends. Up until the 1990s, the number of cases was declining.
Research conducted in the UK – where syphilis cases have increased by 20% in recent years – points to two factors. One is the rise of more unprotected sex between gay men or between men who are nominally heterosexual but still engage clandestinely in sex with other men – “on the down-low,” as the trend is called.
Some specialists say the rise of dating apps like Grindr, which facilitates clandestine homosexual “hook-ups,” may be to blame for the worsening syphilis trend.
Another factor could be the rise of “chem-sex,” or sex between people who are taking drugs, especially party drugs, or “poppers,” to loosen their inhibitions.
In the background of these behavioral shifts is the reality that thanks to the availability of retroviral drugs, gay men no longer fear that contracting the HIV virus will inevitably lead to AIDS – and eventual death.
In many gay circles, “bare-backing,” or unprotected anal sex, is now celebrated while condom use is down-played, even disparaged – a turnaround from the 1980s when the AIDS virus was killing gay men in large numbers.
There’s no doubt that the monitoring of STDs has improved in recent years, in part because of continuing concern over the spread of HIV/AIDS.
But many public health specialists are reluctant to admit – largely due to “political correctness” — that a rise in STDs also reflects a real change in sexual behavior among men, especially gay men who are subject to public stigma and discrimination.
There is also considerable denial in popular culture about the phenomenon of straight men, many of them married, in fact, having sex with other men.
The phenomenon may not stay hidden for long. Recent estimates of the percentage of American men that engage in sex with other men “on the down-low” have reached 8% — about the same percentage of men that self-identify as gay.
Men on the “down-low” are also less likely to get tested for HIV/AIDs, or STDS, generally, according to researchers. That means gay men may be overrepresented in the new cases of syphilis.
But that only means that the spread of diseases like syphilis is likely to remain undetected for a longer period, adding to the health risk, researchers say.
Syphilis and other STDs may also be spreading through the heterosexual population, and in some cases, heterosexual women may be getting infected from the unprotected sex of their husbands with other partners, including other men.
The sharp rise in syphilis is especially concerning because the disease, left untreated, can cause damage to the liver, heart, and brain.
It is also the most difficult to detect in its earliest stages when it typically manifests in the form of sores but then disappears and can lie dormant for years – and become more lethal — without any obvious sign of infection
Presently, the overall number of syphilis cases is still relatively small, compared to other STDS.
But the current infection trend for all three diseases suggests a latent health threat is looming – with little public awareness or education thus far.