This Week in Sex: Millennials Aren’t Getting Tested Enough for STIs

This week, more than a quarter of surveyed millennials say they've never been tested for sexually transmitted infections and Swedish sex educators propose sending condoms into space.

The primary reason that women gave for getting testing was that their doctor had suggested it during an annual check-up. Men who had gotten tested, however, tended to have done so because they suspected they had contracted an STI. Shutterstock

This Week in Sex is a weekly summary of news and research related to sexual behavior, sexuality education, contraception, STIs, and more.

Millennials Aren’t Getting Tested for Sexually Transmitted Infections Often Enough

A new survey conducted by the website Elite Daily asked 240 millennials—generally defined as those between ages 18 an 34—about their sexually transmitted infection (STI) testing history. Many of the respondents (59 percent of men and 68 percent of women) said they had been tested in the last two years, and an additional 14 percent of men and 7 percent of women said they had been tested in the past but couldn’t remember exactly when. But more than a quarter of respondents (26 percent of women and 28 percent of men) said they’d never been tested for STIs.

The primary reason that women gave for getting testing was that their doctor had suggested it during an annual check-up. Men who had gotten tested, however, tended to have done so because they suspected they had contracted an STI.
But both men and women were both more concerned about getting an STI than they were about unwanted pregnancy, and both groups said they were primarily worried about contracting HIV. While this is understandable, given that HIV is a life-changing diagnosis, it also may show a lack of knowledge about STIs, because other infections—including chlamydia, gonorrhea, herpes, and HPV—are far more common in this country.

Debra Hauser, president of Advocates for Youth, suggested that many millennials have not been given the information about sexual health that they need to understand STIs and protect themselves. She told Elite Daily: “If we were to teach young people that sexuality is a normal, healthy part of being human and that as they age into older adolescence, developing intimate relationships is a normal and important part of growing up, then it would be much easier to teach them that getting tested for STDs is a normal part of sexual health care.”

Moreover, testing and treatment are important parts of our prevention efforts because anyone who does not know if they have an STI can be inadvertently passing it to other partners.

World Health Organization Changes STI Treatment Guidelines Because of Drug Resistance

As Rewire reported, the United Nations met last week to create a plan for addressing antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Before that meeting, the World Health Organization (WHO) changed its recommendations for treating the three most common curable STIs: chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis. These three infections, which can cause lifelong health consequences and increase an individual’s risk of being infected with HIV, are extremely common worldwide. An estimated 131 million people are infected with chlamydia each year, along with another 78 and 5.6 million affected by gonorrhea and syphilis, respectively.

Though all three of these infections remain curable, treatment is becoming more difficult as the organisms that cause the conditions become resistant to the antibiotics traditionally used to treat them.

The new treatment guidelines, which vary based on the infection, are based on the latest research and are meant to help ensure that health-care providers around the world prescribe the most effective antibiotic at the correct dose. For the most part, the guidelines confirm what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been suggesting in recent years.

While proper treatment is important, the WHO says that one of the best thing we can do to combat antibiotic resistance is to prevent the spread of STIs in the first place, such as by using condoms consistently and correctly.

Nausea in Early Pregnancy Can Be a Good Sign

My second pregnancy began as what I thought was a stomach flu. Even before any test came back positive, I was nauseated all the time and holding back the dry heaves. New research in JAMA Internal Medicine suggests that instead of cursing my bad luck, I should have been popping Champagne (nonalcoholic, of course) because nausea can be a sign of a healthy pregnancy.

The study included data from 800 newly pregnant women, all of whom had had one or two miscarriages in the past. The women recorded their symptoms of nausea with or without vomiting. The study found that most of the women (more than 80 percent) had felt nauseated at some point in their first few weeks of pregnancy. Interestingly, those women who felt nausea or experienced both nausea and vomiting were between 50 and 75 percent less likely to miscarry again (188 of the women in the study, or 24 percent, miscarried at some point in their pregnancy).

The researchers say that they don’t yet know why nausea and pregnancy health are related, but suggest possible reasons. It could be that nausea is a sign of the high hormones that are needed to carry a pregnancy to term and are especially important during the first trimester’s rapid fetal development. Another theory suggests that nausea is the body’s way of getting a woman to alter her diet during pregnancy (though the only thing I could get down during those early days were potato chips, which implies an altered diet is not necessarily a healthy one).

Obviously, these are population-level findings, so while in general those who feel sick to their stomach are more likely to have a healthy pregnancy, it is possible for someone to feel sick and still miscarry or for someone to feel great and have a healthy pregnancy.

Nonetheless, this study could be heartening for those women who are dry-heaving in a bathroom somewhere right now. And trust me when I say those women need something to feel good about.

Sending Condoms into Space

A Swedish organization has asked the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Agency (NASA) to send some condoms into space. In a video released last week, the Swedish Association for Sexuality Education suggested that a condom be on the list of items that NASA launches into space (past items have included records, Legos, and anatomical drawings of the human race.)

The Swedish sex educators are not, as I originally expected, looking to see if or how long today’s condoms can last in the harsh conditions of outer space. Instead, according to their video, they believe it is important that aliens know about condoms. Condoms, as one of the oldest forms of contraception, do say a lot about humans as a species—most notably that we have sex for pleasure even when we have no intention of reproducing. The video also suggests that equipping aliens with condoms could be good for safer sex if they were to ever come looking for sex with Earth men or women, though we don’t know if our condoms will be the proper shape and size for their body parts.

The true purpose of the video, however, seems to be promoting the importance of condoms among those who already live here on earth. Condoms play a vital role in our world as the only method of contraception that also prevents STIs. If it takes sending them into space to remind those of us who remain earthbound of their importance, it seems worth it even if the “little green men” never need to use one.