Okay folks, we’re about to get a little personal and uncomfortable, but the topic is very important. Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD) impact the Black female population in the US unlike any other demographic. Yet it’s such a taboo topic. Here at the New Black Chick you know we have to discuss everything in order to reverse some of these negative trends. We can’t change what we don’t first acknowledge. A sexually transmitted disease is an infection that is passed from one person to another through sexual contact. The infection can either be bacterial or parasitic and is typically passed through contact with bodily fluids. However, an STD can be passed from mother to child during birth. Some STDs you may have heard of are Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, Gential Herpes, HIV/AIDS, HPV (Human Papillomovirus), Syphilis, and Trichomoniasis. These are just a few, but there are more than 20 different STDs that effect both men and women however the impact tends to be greater for women. Not all STDs have symptoms, in fact most don’t until a critical stage is reached. Should you experience symptoms they might be cramps, strong odor, bleeding or painful intercourse to name a few. Bacterial Vaginosis (BV) and Yeast infections are mistakenly thought to be STDs when they are simply imbalances of the good and bad bacteria in a woman’s body. While these infections are not passed from women to men they can contribute to a woman contracting anSTDs.
The majority of reported STD cases are among Black men and women according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). If you take a look at the breakdown in 2012 Black women by far had the highest rates of Chlymydia, and Gonorrhea, the second highest rate of syphilis, and still continue to make up a large percentage of new HIV infections. While HIV infections have declined among Black women they are still are far more likely than Black men, White men and White women to contract the virus. A Black woman is six to eight times more likely to contract an STD than a White woman. Blacks in general accounted for 47% of the infections and 67% of infections among women. These numbers are staggering, especially when you hold them up against the statistics that Black women are the most religious demographic in the US and the most educated. One of the theories behind these statistics is a lack of knowledge of STD prevention and access to condoms. These are two things adult Black women should have plenty of, ideally, so who is driving these infection rates? Youth. Americans ages 15-24 make up 27% of the sexually active population yet account for 50% of STDs annually.
The Dangers of STDs
Of course no one wants to contract an STD but there may be a notion out there that it’s no big deal. Take a pill and everything is all cleared up. Not necessarily. As a society we know that HIV when it becomes AIDS can and usually results in death. There are other dangers out there. Due to the lack of symptoms an STD may be allowed to flourish in a woman’s body rendering her sterile unbeknownst to her. In fact, undiagnosed STDs render 24,000 women sterile every year. The other danger is of course spreading infection to other partners and perpetuating illness within the population. An STD can also be passed along to a baby either while still in the womb or during birth. Though the probability of passing an STD to a fetus prior to birth is extremely low given the biological design of the placenta to help filter out disease. HPV can lead to genital warts and even some types of cancer, including cervical.
It’s odd that during the recent Ebola outbreak more people were concerned with contracting the disease yet the STD rate in this country is so high.
Prevention Is Simple
There are multiple and relatively easy ways to prevent contracting an STD. Most infections are contracted due to lack of access to condoms and information. Sexually active youth may be too embarrassed to ask questions or buy condoms. Some young women may feel pressured by their partners to engage in unprotected sex while others believe they are in a monogamous relationship. Certainly abstinence prevents all of this but only if its true abstinence. Oral sex is still sex and infections can still be passed through oral sex. Aside from using condoms, dental dams for oral sex, and abstinence another means of prevention is for you and your partner to be tested prior to engaging in sexual activity. It may be a difficult conversation to have but it can save lives. Additionally, get an STD/HIV screening annually even if you are in a committed relationship. While it’s not a romantic notion, people stray in relationships. It’s a fact of life. Get tested even if you’ve only had one partner. Your physician is not there to judge you but rather to advise on a safe and healthy lifestyle. On the chance that you are diagnosed with an STD prompt medical attention is required.
Black women are contracting HIV largely through heterosexual sex with men who are having homosexual sex and not disclosing this to women. It’s commonly referred to as men on the down low. This even happens in marriages. Black women are having to hope and rely on the integrity of their mate to be honest about their sexual orientation and/or preferences.
If you haven’t done so already schedule your annual pap smear and ask for an STD screening. A good gynecologist will ask if you want one anyway. Not because they are judging but probably because they offer it to all women. There are gynecologists who offer it to married women and they are standard practice for pregnant women to rule out any dangers to the fetus. Limit your risks and exposure, get tested and get treated immediately if you need to. Visit the CDC’s website to learn more and of course ask a physician for guidance and advice. If you engaged in unprotected sex, forgive yourself, get tested and commit to healthy lifestyle from this point on. To the youth, if you’re old enough to have sex, you’re old enough to protect yourself and others.
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