STD Statistics and Data: A Comprehensive Guide

From 2013 to 2018, the United States has seen exponential growth in the spread of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). As reported by the World Health Organization (WHO), over 1 million cases of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are transmitted every day around the world. 

An estimated 38 million people were living with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) by the end of 2019, approximately half a billion people around the world have contracted genital herpes and around 1 million people contract a curable STI every day. Half of all sexually active persons will contract an STI by the age of 25. 

Due to the continuous rise in STD cases, the topic of prevention, treatment and accurate statistics remains a hot discussion. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), certain challenges have encouraged this spread of STDs:

“Many state and local STD program budgets have been cut in recent years—resulting in staff layoffs, reduced clinic hours, and increased patient co-pays that can limit access to essential diagnosis and treatment services.”

Along with this, limited access to healthcare, untreated cases and lack of education work against the push towards STD prevention.

With the knowledge of current data and preventative measures, we at Priority STD Testing hope to promote sexual health and STD awareness. Unfortunately, a study submitted to the Journal of Adolescent Health in 2016 showed that only 12% of all cases in young adults are reported—the rest often continue to progress undiagnosed. For this reason, we’ve put together this resource of current data about STDs in the US and abroad, featuring up-to-date trends and hot spots.

US Data

According to surveys conducted by the CDC, the United States saw a combined total of 2,457,118 cases of STDs reported in 2018. The CDC also claims that all of the most commonly reported STDs in the US have seen dramatic increases in prevalence since 2017.

  • Chlamydia rose nearly 10% from 1,70858 cases to 1,758,668
  • Gonorrhea surpassed its highest recorded incidence rate since 1991, with 583,405 cases, jumping back from an all-time low in 2009
  • Syphilis saw an incidence increase of 13.3%, resulting in a total of 115,045 cases, and congenital syphilis experienced a spike of 40% from the previous year. 

STDs also show varying trends according to sex, age groups and ethnicity. According to the CDC’s 2018 surveillance, women experienced 53% more cases of chlamydia than men. Men experienced an incidence rate of 212.8 cases per 100,000 for gonorrhea, while women only had 145.8 cases per 100,000. The CDC also noted that men made up 85.7% of the United State’s primary and secondary syphilis cases. 

Age also has a significant impact on STD prevalence, as explained by the CDC: 

“Compared with older adults, sexually active adolescents aged 15–19 years and young adults aged 20–24 years are at higher risk of acquiring STDs for a combination of behavioral, biological, and cultural reasons.”

The American Sexual Health Association elaborates on the subject by highlighting factors that put young adults at a greater risk for STDs, including the increased likelihood of drug and/or alcohol abuse, multiple sex partners and unprotected sex. In 2018, the CDC reported that the highest number of cases for chlamydia were among people ages 15 to 24, and similar data was gathered for gonorrhea. On the other hand, syphilis or HIV diagnosis was more prevalent between the ages of 25 to 29

This drastic increase in cases can be attributed directly to a variety of factors, including poor education. Sex education and/or HIV education is only required in 39 states and the District of Columbia, leaving 11 states without mandated education on topics such as safer sex practices and STD preventative measures. Shockingly, only 17 states require accurate and comprehensive safer sex and STD prevention curriculum. This lack of education results in many young adults being without the information they need to make informed, responsible decisions regarding their sexual health. 

Lack of education, poor access to healthcare and low economic standing all negatively affect the movement towards better sexual health. This is especially true for minority groups, including the Hispanic, Asian, Black, Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander and Native American/Alaska Native communities. For example, in 2018, the CDC revealed that reported instances of chlamydia for Black females were 5 times the rate of White females. The rate of gonorrhea for the Hispanic community was 1.6 times higher, and the rate of primary and secondary syphilis cases was 2.6 times higher for the Native American/Alaska Native population, as compared to the White population. 

STD Statistics by State

Statistics gathered from state-level surveys help paint the picture of the overall sexual health of the US. Whether due to more access to healthcare, better quality sex education or other factors, some states have lower STD incidence rates than others. 

Because the population of each state varies greatly, simply providing the total number of estimated cases per state does not provide an accurate representation. For example, while California has the highest reported STD cases, it also has the largest population. Instead, by calculating the incidence rate per 100,000 people, we can accurately compare the STD rates of each state, regardless of population size. However, when analyzing the ranking of each state, it is also important to consider the multitude of factors that influence the growing number of STD cases, such as the racial and socioeconomic makeup of each state’s population, as mentioned above.  

Currently, Alaska (with 1,144 cases per 100,000 people) stands as the state with the highest STD incidence rate, followed by Mississippi (with 1,082 cases per 100,000 people), Louisiana (with 1,046 cases per 100,000 people) and South Carolina (with 957 cases per 100,000 people). On the other hand, the states with the lowest STD incidence rates are West Virginia (with 265 cases per 100,000 people), Vermont (with 319 cases per 100,000 people), New Hampshire (with 327 cases per 100,000 people) and Maine (with 384 cases per 100,000 people). 

The reason for Alaska’s high rate of infection has yet to be established. However, it may stem from limited access to quality healthcare, prevalent unprotected sex practices, a higher rate of testing or the geographic isolation. Alaska has also been recorded to have the highest rate of sexual assault in the US with more than 160 cases reported per 100,000 people, nearly 4 times the national average. According to the CDC, the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium responded to this consistent surge in cases by providing free access to at-home STD testing kits for anyone at least 14 years of age in 2015. While Alaska still struggles with a high rate of cases, this program signifies a step in the right direction.  

 

Prevention and Testing

To reduce this exponential growth of STD cases, the most effective course of action is to encourage prevention and testing. Utilizing preventative measures and getting tested regularly will help prevent the spread of STDs and STIs and prompt timely medical attention to those already infected. 

As mentioned previously, the CDC recommends the consistent use of external (or male) latex condoms as a barrier during sex to prevent the transference of HIV, chlamydia, gonorrhea, genital ulcer diseases and more. However, external condoms must be used properly and consistently. 

Proper usage of external condoms includes but is not limited to: 

  • Consistent use throughout the entire duration of sexual activity.
  • Correct condom application. 
  • Removal and replacement of a condom as soon as it breaks. 
  • Avoidance of oil-based lubricants that might weaken the latex.
  • Proper disposal and removal of the condom to prevent the exchange of genital fluids.

Other preventative measures, such as the internal (or female) condom and dental dams can be used as preventative measures. Internal condoms have shown to be effective protection against not only pregnancy but also STIs and HIV. Dental dams are typically used for protection during oral sex and also must be used correctly for optimal results. Similar to the external condom, the overall effectiveness of these types of protection is reliant on proper usage. 

The American Sexual Health Association offers a variety of lifestyle practices that can help reduce infection rates and encourage better sexual health. These methods include:

  • Abstinence
    • Abstaining from sexual contact altogether. This is the most effective (albeit unconventional and unrealistic) method of STD prevention.
  • Mutual Monogamy
    • In a mutually monogamous relationship, both partners do not have sexual partners outside of the relationship and only see each other. If both partners are not STD/STI positive, the risk of STD or STI contraction is extremely low.
  • Proactive testing
  • Protection
    • Physical barriers such as condoms are recommended by the CDC as effective methods to prevent not only pregnancy but also the transmission of STDs. 

Of course, the best way to increase awareness of STDs and safer sex practices is to encourage active communication. Having open discussions with friends, family members and partner(s) regarding sexual health is a great way to stay knowledgeable and informed. Leaving an open line of communication, especially with current and potential partners, reduces the likelihood of unintentional transference and fosters a sense of mutual understanding as well. 

Here at Priority STD Testing, we offer discrete, same-day testing to keep you up-to-date and proactive about your sexual health. We provide confidential testing services all across the United States and treatment options for those who need it. Get tested today and receive fast, accurate results within just 72 hours.