THE BLOG

STDs: America's Sexual Health Is Screwed

06/27/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Among the many vital health issues not addressed by healthcare reform is the state of our sexual health. There are 19 million new sexually transmitted disease (STD) infections in the United States each year according to the Centers for Disease Control. What does our government spend to prevent this pandemic? One hundred and fifty-one million dollars. That is less than 50 cents per person.

Some of you may already be thinking this doesn't affect me. Think again. Half of all STDs are among young people ages 15 - 24. They are your child, grandchild, sister, brother, cousin or friend. (And by the way, STDs cost the healthcare system $15.9 billion a year.)

If ever an ounce of prevention was worth a pound of cure, it is true of STDs. Something that weighs considerably less than an ounce can help prevent STDs -- a condom. Yes, this lowly, much-maligned piece of latex could save us billions and protect our loved ones. But, we do everything we can to keep them out of the hands of the people who need them most.

The wholesale price of a condom is about four cents. Yet they sell in the drug store for a buck fifty a piece. Sometimes they are behind the counter or even under lock and key. Where they aren't, are in hotel rooms, bars, coffee shops, beauty salons and barber shops: All the places where people meet to hook up for sex or talk about it with their peeps. Condoms aren't advertised on television except occasionally in the wee hours of the morning. And giving condoms to young people--or even explaining the benefits--unleashes a political firestorm.

The price we pay for all of this 'enlightenment' is rampant disease that could be easily prevented. We have ruined lives of countless women who become infertile or contract cervical cancer or lifelong infections like herpes and HIV, and we are helping the spread of multi-drug resistant strains. Most of all, we are sending the absolutely wrong message to young people about sex. We are telling them that they deserve to be punished for having sex because sex is bad. One of the wages of sin is getting a disease, not to mention going to hell. So our sexual health policy is largely dictated by religious beliefs. We place such a low priority on it because we feel guilty, don't want to discuss it and believe that we are getting what we deserve.

It is not as if sex is about to go out of fashion. The sexual revolution is here to stay. Women used to spend most of their lives having and raising children, which is no longer the case. The last tie between sex and reproduction was severed with the introduction of the pill. Multiple sex partners during a lifetime is the norm. That genie is not going back in the bottle. However, we can protect ourselves from STDs. Sex positive European cultures could teach us a lot. They are sexually permissive but don't have the level of disease or unwanted pregnancies that we have. America--moralistic in its attitudes, yet hedonistic in its behavior--makes for a dangerous brew.

When the stimulus bill was first introduced last year, there was $400 million in it for STD and HIV testing. Republicans used it for target practice, and the Obama Administration and the Democrats in Congress caved immediately and took that money out. When American society finally grows up and deals with sex in an adult fashion, we will realize that we wasted a lot of money and ruined many lives. And, as in so many other aspects of healthcare, true leadership is still sorely needed.

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