While preventive education and treatment resources are accessible far and wide, STIs — especially gonorrhea — have reached all-time highs over the past few years. 

In the words of America’s most prolific thinker, Bart Simpson: “I didn’t think it was physically possible, but this both sucks and blows.”

Sexually transmitted infections (or STIs) are a hidden epidemic in today’s distracted society. Behind the ongoing stigma of the taboo topic is the cold truth that at any given time, according to 2016’s Sexually Transmitted Disease Surveillance report from the CDC, there are more than 110 million new and existing reported STI cases in the country. Alarmingly, those numbers are increasing exponentially where a lack of modern sexual education meets disenfranchised populations. 

Alison Macklin, Senior Director of the Responsible Sex Education for Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, believes numerous factors have led to the dramatic spike of reported cases, including an inadequate system in place for teens. 

“The youth is disproportionately affected because although this demographic represents 25 percent of the population, they also represent over 50 percent of the reported STI cases,” she says. 

Macklin admits there’s a lethal convergence of lackluster sexual education where a federal philosophy of abstinence meets pregnancy prevention. The result is a substantial portion of the population that simply doesn’t know the basics of human sexuality. Unsurprisingly, the growth of people infected with common STIs follows suit. 

“The youth still believes, ‘Oh, this can’t happen to me, or this looks normal’ — and they feel reluctant to ask those tough questions because they think they will be judged by asking STD-related questions,” Macklin adds. 

It doesn’t matter how many partners someone’s had, each individual holds the power of self-advocacy.

In addition to the saturated youth sector, the CDC reports that disenfranchised subgroups such as homosexuals and bisexual men, Latinos, rural populations and poverty-stricken populations are also areas where STI rates continue to rise.  

In 2016, more than 2 million cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis were reported. It’s the highest number to ever be recorded in the country. Part of this epidemic, outside of miseducation, is attributed to the evolvement of antibiotic resistant bacteria. Because of the overprescribing of antibiotics for years, a new “super gonorrhea” makes headlines from time to time. It’s currently untreatable.

Yet despite the fact most STIs are still easily detected and cured with screening tests and antibiotics, the growing rate of STI infected individuals showcases a bizarre illustration of a tragic systems failure where public healthcare is concerned, especially in a society at the peak of information efficiency, .

Though there is one way to combat the epidemic, says Macklin. 

She feels that the more everyone talks about STIs, the more society normalizes the subject and empowers younger generations. Encouraging open and honest conversations with sexual partners and medical professionals also provides everyone with the necessary armor to combat the increase in STIs. 

It doesn’t matter how many partners someone’s had, each individual holds the power of self-advocacy. If Macklin had her way, everyone would be regularly tested. 

“You can’t over-test when it comes to sexually transmitted infections,” she says. “It only takes one sexual act to become infected.”