How many STDs are there?

In the 1960s gonorrhea and syphilis seemed to be the only well known STDs, and both of these could be treated with penicillin. Today there are over twenty-five different STDs, and some of the most common ones are without cures.[1] Among the STDs that can be cured, some are becoming increasingly resistant to modern antibiotics.

Most people who have an STD are unaware of their infection and contagious state.[2] This should especially alarm young people, because of the nineteen million new STD infections each year, nearly half of them are among people between the ages of fifteen and twenty-four.[3] According to the Centers for Disease Control, the direct medical cost associated with STDs in the United States is $14.1 billion each year![4]

Some of the most common STDs include HPV, chlamydia, herpes, gonorrhea, and trichomoniasis. The four STDs that are incurable are HPV, HIV, herpes, and hepatitis. All of the others can be cured.

When considering the potential impact of STDs, we should remember the words of former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop: “When you have sex with someone, you are having sex with everyone they have had sex with for the last ten years, and everyone they and their partners have had sex with for the last ten years.”[5] Further, people can get tested for STDs, be told that they are clean, and then transmit dormant STDs the tests did not detect. Most tests today pick up the majority of the infections they are testing for. The problem is that many people believe they have been tested for all STDs when, in reality, they have been tested for only a few.

Recently a high school girl contacted me because she was considering sleeping with her boyfriend. She was a virgin, but he had been with eleven girls. If his previous partners were as sexually active as he had been (and depending on the types of STDs), she could be exposing herself to the possible infections of more than two thousand people if she slept with him once.[6] Wisely, she chose not to take the risk.

[1]. R. Eng and W.T. Butler, The Hidden Epidemic: Confronting Sexually Transmitted Diseases (Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, 1997), 1.
[2]. Joe McIlhaney, M.D., Safe Sex (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker House Books, 1992), 23.
[3]. Hillard Weinstock et al., “Sexually Transmitted Diseases Among American Youth: Incidence and Prevalence Estimates, 2000,” Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health 36:1 (January/February 2004), 6–10.
[4]. Centers for Disease Control, “Trends in Reportable Sexually Transmitted Diseases in the United States, 2005,” Division of STD Prevention (December 2006), 1.
[5]. C. Everett Koop, M.D., as quoted by “Safe Sex?” (Boise, Idaho: Grapevine Publications, 1993).
[6]. Sexual Exposure Chart

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