NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Sexually transmitted diseases (STD) rates have continued to grow, particularly in teenagers, despite condom usage remaining at or near record levels, according to recent data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
In its 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance report released in June, the CDC found that teen condom use remained near the 60 percent range (60.2). This continues the trend that saw usage rise from 46.2 to 63.0 percent from 1991-2003 and then plateau, with only statistically negligible changes since.
Despite this, the CDC estimates the young adult population (ages 15-24) account for almost half of the estimated 19 million new STD infections every year, while comprising only 25 percent of the sexually active population.
Since 2000, syphilis rates have doubled, while chlamydia rates have seen similar growth.
In 2010, the number of chlamydia cases reported to the CDC exceeded 1.3 million, the largest number of cases ever reported for any condition.
The growth of STD rates contrasts other statistical information, such as the continued drop in the teen birth rate. The seeming contradiction, however, can be attributed to other factors.
“Rates of oral contraceptive use among females in this age range have increased, which helps explain the lower birth rate,” said Dr. David Hager, Ob/Gin and a member of Focus on the Family’s Physicians Resource Council.
Hager, author of “Women at Risk: The Real Truth About Sexually Transmitted Diseases,” also attributes part of the decrease to the 40 percent of teen pregnancies that end in elective abortion.
Teenagers are faced with a culture that encourages their being sexually active and a personal tendency to believe they are immune to long-term consequences, according to Sarah Hughes, Executive Director of the House of Hope in Clayton, N.C., a Christian therapeutic school, home and counseling center for hurting and troubled teenage girls.
Factors such as these have led to one in four teenage girls having at least one STD, according to a CDC estimate.
While the statistical information can be daunting, those involved say parents and churches can work to prevent STDs and to minister after the fact.
Hager warns that education should not be left up to “secular organizations with an agenda, such as Planned Parenthood.” Pastors and student ministries must address both the potential exposure to sex in the culture and the consequences of non-marital sexual activity.
Unfortunately, one of those consequences can be infertility in women who contract an STD. Each year, untreated STDs cause at least 24,000 women in the US to become infertile.
In her work with teen girls, Hughes has seen the lasting emotional effects an STD diagnosis can have on an individual. “She can view herself as not worthy or damaged,” Hughes said.
“It poses a challenge to the truth, which is that she is full of worth and value because there is a Savior who died for her.”
Gallery Church, a Southern Baptist congregation in Baltimore, Md., has seen the damage STDs and the subsequent emotional trauma can bring to a community. The church knew it must get involved after seeing that Baltimore has consistently been one of the five urban areas in the U.S. with the highest HIV rates.
Since 2009, Gallery Church has partnered with local government and others to serve those in the community with HIV and demonstrate the practical love of Christ to those around them.
One of the primary ways the congregation has done that is through City Uprising, the church’s local mission’s emphasis. According to Robert Holman, City Uprising director, part of the ministry consists of sending teams from the local church body, as well as from other partnering churches, into the community to inform residents of HIV testing sites.
Not only does this lead to individuals becoming tested and connected with care for those in need, it has brought about a spiritual response for some.
“As a church, we have welcomed into our body members of the community infected with HIV, who are now living on display for Christ and making disciples,” Holman said.
Churches can and should be involved in ministering to those with HIV, Holman said.
“We believe that only when the church comes together in partnership with the city and other organizations, can we really stamp out the epidemic in our city and other areas in our nation impacted by HIV/AIDS and other STDs.”
His advice to other churches seeking to start in a similar ministry: “Start somewhere, no matter how small.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Aaron Earls is a freelance writer in Wake Forest, N.C.)
Ideas for churches ministering to families dealing with an STD diagnosis:
– Don’t be judgmental and condemning.
“Come alongside with compassion and mercy.” Dr. David Hager, Ob/Gin and author of “Women at Risk: The Real Truth About Sexually Transmitted Diseases.”
– Offer accountability and encouragement.
“The church can help those get back on track by making sure the teen and family are plugged in with people who truly care about them.” Sarah Hughes, Executive Director of the House of Hope in Clayton, N.C.
– Help the teen learn from the mistake and move on.
“For the teenager: It doesn’t define you. Focus on who you are in Christ, walk in forgiveness and move forward.” Sarah Hughes
Ideas for parents of a teen with an STD:
– Make sure proper medical care is received.
“The most important thing is to obtain adequate medical care and then discuss ways to avoid repeating the behavior that resulted in the infection.” David Hager
– Keep communication open.
“Treat teens with respect and be someone they are not afraid to talk to.” Sarah Hughes
– Work with the parents of the other child.
“Talking with the family of the opposite sex child without shaming and blaming is important.” David Hager
– Get help from others.
“Counseling is an invaluable resources that can be extremely helpful in dealing with a diagnosis.” Sarah Hughes
5 key STD-related stats.
– The CDC estimates there are 19 million new STD infections in the US each year.
– Girls aged 15-19 have the highest rates of gonorrhea compared to every other demographic group.
– Every year, 24,000 women in the US become infertile due to an untreated STD.
– Young adults, ages 15-24, comprise only 25 percent of the sexually active population, but they acquire almost half of all new STD infections.
– In 2010, more than 1.3 million cases of chlamydia were reported, the largest number ever for any condition.
SOURCE: Statistics from the CDC’s 2010 Sexually Transmitted Diseases Surveillance report and the National Abstinence Education Association’s Sexual Risk Avoidance Education: Considerations for Protecting Teen Health report.