Sex is a topic that may be uncomfortable but it is a fact of life. Whether it's a one-night thing, a new relationship or getting close with someone familiar, having the discussion of safe sex practices is important.
The staff at Kenner Army Health Clinic's Public Health Nursing department understands this and provides Soldiers and beneficiaries with a better understanding of sexually transmitted infections, prevention, human immunodeficiency virus testing, treatments and STI counseling.
The APHN concern to educate beneficiaries is elevated due to emerging issues that STIs have hit crisis levels and are on the rise in the U.S., according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The data shows STIs such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis cases hit an all-time high in 2017 with nearly 2.3 million cases reported to CDC, surpassing the total reported to CDC for 2016 by more than 200,000 cases.
"No one knows why this is happening in the U.S.," said Stephen Pinkerton, a nurse practitioner in Occupational Health. "A causal relationship has not been scientifically proven. There could be numerous factors, including: decreased use of condoms, increased unprotected sexual encounters, increased testing for STIs, antibiotic resistance, recurrent or repeat infections, not performing lab tests to ensure a cure has occurred 12 weeks after treatment, public health budget cuts, the rising popularity of dating apps, or some other cause that we have not yet even considered. Whatever the reasons, the increase in these numbers is alarming. In terms of prevention and treatment, the country is getting worse, not better. This marks the fifth consecutive year of sharp increases in reports of STIs."
Today, there are more than 20 types of STIs, including genital herpes, gonorrhea, chlamydia, HIV/AIDS, HPV, trichomoniasis, and syphilis. STIs can be spread through skin to skin contact, body fluid, or both during oral, vaginal, and anal sex. Even without visible symptoms, there is still a chance of exposure to an STI.
"There are things everyone can do to help protect their sexual health, and it's worth protecting," said Kenner's Chief of Army Public Health Nursing Maj. Jasmin Gregory. "One of the ways of protection is by wearing a condom. Condoms are 98 percent effective in preventing pregnancy, HIV, and other STIs, if worn consistently and correctly."
Gary Woodford, an epidemiology technician in Public Health, Preventive Health, teaches his patients "Condom Sense," which he feels works best when it comes to selecting and handling condoms. When looking at a condom, one should observe the expiration date and ensure it is not ripped and does not look dry, brittle, stiff or sticky. The condoms should be stored at room temperature and not left in your vehicle, exposed to extreme hot and cold temperatures. Most of all, don't store a condom in a wallet where it can be damaged. Be sure to use water-based lubricants. This helps reduce friction that can cause the condom to break. Not using a condom means increasing your risk.
Although condoms are effective, they're not the only tools available to fight STIs. There are prevention medicines available to include vaccinations like Gardasil to prevent Human Papilloma Virus, or the HIV PrEP (Pre-exposure prophylaxis) which will be offered at Kenner Army Health Clinic.
"Aside from condom use, prevention medication and vaccinations, we have to talk about sex," said Gregory. "It's important that we have healthy open communication with our partners and even our children."
Although many adolescents may say they know everything about sex, studies have found that many adolescents are not completely informed about sex and sexually transmitted infections.
"We understand that having the 'sex talk' with our children is difficult," said Gregory. "Allow APHN to help you with that discussion. We encourage parents to schedule an appointment for STI education for teens."
These "sex talks" are not only for teens but for those of all ages at APHN. The team is ready to give the correct vital facts.
"You have to know your status," said Gregory. "Many STIs are asymptomatic. "The best thing you can do is get tested. No matter what the results are, you can do something about it. Some STIs are curable, most are treatable, but all are manageable. Call and schedule an appointment at the Kenner Army Health Clinic and know your status."
Kenner also offers Self-Care classes to all incoming AIT soldiers and any unit by request.
Free male or female condoms are available with no questions asked in Preventive Medicine on the 2nd floor at Kenner.
For more information or to schedule an appointment, call 866-533-5242.