Is there any connection between pornography, STDs and unplanned pregnancy?

Last month was Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month (among other designations).  Efforts were focused on reducing the number of teens facing unplanned pregnancies – a number that has declined significantly in recent years.  This is a good thing, but focusing solely on pregnancy prevention, while overlooking other painful consequences of the misuse or too-early use of sex hurts young adults in the long run.

Typically pregnancy is only a possibility three to six days a month for the average female. But STDs – sexually transmitted diseases or infections (STIs) – can be acquired any day of any month that a guy or girl is sexually active.  And the effects of STDs can be as life-altering as pregnancy, with no upside at all – unlike pregnancy, which results in people like you and me! Lighthouse offers free testing for the two bacterial STDs most commonly found in young adults.

Another often overlooked negative consequence is addiction to pornography.  At first glance, pornography use might seem to offer a way to avoid both unwanted pregnancy and STDs.  But that first glance leads to another, and another . . . and eventually your ability to connect with real people in healthy ways is crippled.

When we ask teens in high school classes to name some good things about sex, one common answer is, “It brings you closer to your partner.”  Yes, it does – physically speaking, anyway.  But the physical act of sex may not bring you closer emotionally, especially if you haven’t done the hard work of getting to know your partner, and being vulnerable so she or he knows you.  Pornography never brings you closer to a real person. It actually puts distance – literally and figuratively – between you and your partner or future spouse.  It may even create distance between you and your friends.

These negative consequences of pornography are connected to how our brains are wired for oneness.  Neurochemicals like dopamine and vasopressin released in men during sex help bond them to their partners, and in particular, to who they are looking at during sex.  If the “who” happens to be a fake image, and not a flesh and blood person, bonding still takes place – but not to a “real” partner.  And the bonding and arousal processes at work are addictive – drawing the participant further away from real-life relationships, while creating unrealistic expectations for future partners.

New studies report that one out of every three men ages 18 to 25 are now experiencing some form of sexual dysfunction, due to porn consumption.  Some of these young men may even lose interest in real life sexual relationships all together. 1

Of course, avoiding relationships with real people does prevent unplanned pregnancy. But fortunately, there are healthier and wiser ways to prevent unplanned pregnancies and STDS than pornography use.  The plan that protects your body, your heart and your relationships with others, involves saving sex for the one partner you commit to for life.

1 Sexual dysfunctions among young men:  prevalence and associated factors (2012). J z Health

When Sex isn’t Sexy

While most television shows and movies include casual sexual encounters, rarely are the lovers (and I use that term loosely) shown getting tested for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs, for short).

Some consequences of uncommitted sex make it to the big screen.  Unexpected pregnancies have become an expected plot twist, thanks to movies like Juno and Knocked Up that center on the concept of an ill-timed conception.  The emotional drama after a relationship turns sexual or a sexual relationship ends makes for interesting viewing (think 500 Days of Summer, Friends with Benefits, or Vanilla Sky). But STDs seem to be the unspoken, unexpected consequence.

It’s not that surprising.  Unplanned pregnancy leads to a little person who’s quite easy to love, after the initial shock wears off.  Emotional drama is related to the bonding that occurs when neurochemicals are released during sex.  This bonding process heightens the excitement.

But STDs don’t have any positives to weigh against their negatives. They’re not cute – or sexy.  Talking about them won’t make you the life of the party.

Having sex with multiple partners will likely result in a sexually transmitted disease.  Consider the odds – each new partner exposes you to whatever STDs or infections their partners may have had – and to what their partners were exposed to, and so on.  One random hook up may expose you to the infections of more partners than you can or care to count.

The US Center for Disease Control (CDC) calls the all-time highest spike in reported cases of syphilis, chlamydia, and Gonorrhea “alarming.”  According to the CDC, more than 1.5 million cases were reported in 2015, a 6% increase from 2014.  Chlamydia and gonorrhea are the highest reported STDs among young people aged 15-24.  Those are the reported cases. Many cases are untested and unreported.

Although these diseases affect both men and women, women face the most serious health consequences.  Your sexual health matters not only for your overall wellness, but also for your future fertility.  Undiagnosed STDs causes more than 20,000 cases of infertility each year.  If you are sexually active and have new or multiple partners you should be tested annually.  If you are pregnant, it is especially important to be tested for gonorrhea early in your pregnancy.  Untreated gonorrhea may cause miscarriage or premature birth, and may be passed from mother to newborn baby during vaginal delivery.

At Lighthouse, we offer free screening for chlamydia and Gonorrhea.  If you do have a positive test result for an STD, it is important for you to tell your partner and for both of you to be treated.  If you or your partner has an untreated STD, you can pass it back and forth to each other during sex or transmit it to others in the future.

Health officials recommend using condoms to prevent spreading sexually transmitted diseases, but even when used correctly they don’t work 100% of the time – especially for an infection like HPV (the Human Papilloma Virus) that can be spread through skin-to-skin contact.  Plus, condoms don’t protect you from the broken heart which may result from your casual encounter.

Limiting yourself to one partner for life is the only sure-fire way to avoid the un-sexy side of sex.  Commitment is good for your emotional and physical well-being.  In the end, nothing is sexier (or healthier) than committed love.   # # #

What movies and sit-coms leave out when it comes to sex

Couple Close UpThere is little left to the imagination in most movies or television shows when it comes to sex.  But STDs get little or no airtime.  Sexually transmitted diseases are like the “he-who-must-not-be-named” character who never appears on screen.

This isn’t surprising.  STDs don’t have any positive qualities.  They are not like an unplanned pregnancy that may be poorly timed and challenging to deal with, but results in a small human being, of infinite worth.

But STDs are a real part of the story of modern sexuality and worth talking about – mostly because they can cause significant and sometimes lasting damage.

STD rates are at an all-time high, according to a just-released report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  New national data shows that cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis are climbing in the U.S. and have reached an all-time high.  The report shows that though rates of these sexually transmitted diseases fluctuated over the last five years, all three spiked in 2014. The center called the increases “alarming.”

The volume of chlamydia cases last year was particularly alarming.  Nationwide, there were about 1.4 million cases, the highest number of annual cases of any condition ever reported to the CDC.  (For prevalence rates from the report, click here.)  “STDs are a substantial health challenge facing the Unite States,” the CDC report summary says.  “Each of these infections is a potential threat to an individual’s immediate and long-term health and well-being.”

Chlamydia and gonorrhea are common and curable diseases, but if untreated can cause serious problems such as infertility in women.  Officials estimate that undiagnosed STDs cause 20,000 women in the country to become infertile each year.  I have also read reputable sources who believe chlamydia can negatively impact fertility even when treated.  This is one of the reasons Lighthouse provides free testing for chlamydia and gonorrhea. We want women to understand and appreciate the fragility of their fertility, and take steps to protect it. (We also offer the free testing to men because they are part of both the problem and the solution.)

Health officials recommend using condoms during sex to prevent the spread of these diseases. But condoms are not 100% effective – even when used correctly – and they are 0% effective at protecting you from a broken heart.  There is another way to protect yourself from the negative consequences of sex:  limit your sexual activity to one partner for life.  Trust someone with a whole-hearted commitment, before you entrust your physical and emotional health to them.

Abstinence before marriage doesn’t sound very sexy.  But it definitely deserves our attention.