STD risks vary by sexual orientation. Gay and bisexual men, like heterosexual women, are receptive sexually and tend to have asymptomatic infections. In addition, certain diseases, such as HIV and hepatitis B, exist in endemic levels in the gay community and are incurable. Heterosexual men are at lower risk than heterosexual women and gay men because they are not receptive sexually, and female-to-male transmission of STDs is less efficient than male-to-female and male-to-male. Additionally, vaginal fluids are less likely to transmit infection than is contaminated semen. Lesbian women have the lowest rates of STD infection. Gay women tend to have fewer sexual partners over the course of their lifetimes, and they do not engage in vaginal or anal intercourse involving ejaculation.
STD risk is strongly associated with the number of injector drug users (IDUs) in a community. Injector drug use impairs users’ ability to make good decisions regarding sexual behavior and often involves needle sharing between users. This facilitates the transmission of blood-borne infections such as HIV and hepatitis B. A vicious cycle of drug abuse, exchanging sex for money or other resources, unsafe sex, and infection with a variety of STDs has occurred since the mid-1980s and has led to the resurgence of syphilis in urban America.
Sexually transmitted diseases are becoming common and widely spread throughout Americans because of unprotected sex, permiscuity, and multiple sex partners.
Interestingly, in both samples, approval was the greatest among women who had left high school at a higher age and/or came from a higher socioeconomic upbringing.
The more familiar STD's are AIDS, gonorhea, syphilis, chlamydia-related infections, genital herpes, candidiasis, nonspecific vaginitis, trichomoniasis, pediculosis, scabies, and urinary tract infections.
Another key difference in behavior, Regnerus reports, is that evangelical Protestant teen-agers are significantly less likely than other groups to use contraception. This could be because evangelicals are also among the most likely to believe that using contraception will send the message that they are looking for sex. It could also be because many evangelicals are steeped in the abstinence movement’s warnings that condoms won’t actually protect them from pregnancy or venereal disease. More provocatively, Regnerus found that only half of sexually active teen-agers who say that they seek guidance from God or the Scriptures when making a tough decision report using contraception every time. By contrast, sixty-nine per cent of sexually active youth who say that they most often follow the counsel of a parent or another trusted adult consistently use protection.
“Having to wait until age twenty-five or thirty to have sex is unreasonable,” Regnerus writes. He argues that religious organizations that advocate chastity should “work more creatively to support younger marriages. This is not the 1950s (for which I am glad), where one could bank on social norms, extended (and larger) families, and clear gender roles to negotiate and sustain early family formation.”
There are, of course, plenty of exceptions to these rules—messily divorcing professional couples in Boston, high-school sweethearts who stay sweetly together in rural Idaho. Still, Cahn and Carbone conclude, “the paradigmatic red-state couple enters marriage not long after the woman becomes sexually active, has two children by her mid-twenties, and reaches the critical period of marriage at the high point in the life cycle for risk-taking and experimentation. The paradigmatic blue-state couple is more likely to experiment with multiple partners, postpone marriage until after they reach emotional and financial maturity, and have their children (if they have them at all) as their lives are stabilizing.”
Awareness of sexual infections, cures and preventions will unfortunately not solve, but will greatly reduce the incidence of sexually transmitted diseases.
Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), also known as sexually transmitted infections (STIs), are infections spread primarily through sexual contact. More than 65 million people in the United States are currently infected with an incurable sexually transmitted disease such as genital herpes, and each year an additional 19 million people develop new cases of one or more of the 25 diseases categorized as STDs. More than half of all these new infections will affect young people ages 15-22.
Like other American teens, young evangelicals live in a world of Internet porn, celebrity sex scandals, and raunchy reality TV, and they have the same hormonal urges that their peers have. Yet they come from families and communities in which sexual life is supposed to be forestalled until the first night of a transcendent honeymoon. Regnerus writes, “In such an atmosphere, attitudes about sex may formally remain unchanged (and restrictive) while sexual activity becomes increasingly common. This clash of cultures and norms is felt most poignantly in the so-called Bible Belt.” Symbolic commitment to the institution of marriage remains strong there, and politically motivating—hence the drive to outlaw gay marriage—but the actual practice of it is scattershot.
Most personal health STD prevention programs focus largely on individual behavior as the basis for risk reduction. Many of these programs emphasize safer sex or abstinence from sexual intercourse as their preferred preventive approach. Public health STD prevention programs typically emphasize community health interventions such as free and confidential testing and treatment centers, needle exchange programs, and sociomarketing campaigns to promote condom distribution and family planning services. While both approaches have merit, each falls short of offering a comprehensive analysis of STD risks.
Even more important than religious conviction, Regnerus argues, is how “embedded” a teen-ager is in a network of friends, family, and institutions that reinforce his or her goal of delaying sex, and that offer a plausible alternative to America’s sexed-up consumer culture. A church, of course, isn’t the only way to provide a cohesive sense of community. Close-knit families make a difference. Teen-agers who live with both biological parents are more likely to be virgins than those who do not. And adolescents who say that their families understand them, pay attention to their concerns, and have fun with them are more likely to delay intercourse, regardless of religiosity.