Gonorrhea Rates Skyrocket In Sex-Ed Unfriendly Utah

There was a fivefold increase—mostly among women and straight people

Illustration: R. A. Di Ieso
Sep 01, 2016 at 1:32 PM ET

Ah, Utah — home of abstinence-based education, banning teachers for using the word “condom,” and skyrocketing gonorrhea rates. That last piece is according to a new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (and, you might say, basic common sense).

Since 2011, the gonorrhea rate in the state “has increased substantially,” according to the CDC. We’re talking a fivefold increase to 49 cases per 100,000 people in 2014. (To put this in perspective, though, the national rate is 110.7 cases per 100,000 people.) Between 2011 and 2014, the most recent year for which data is available, the gonorrhea rate was higher among men than women, but the percentage increase was much greater among women (715 percent) than among men (297 percent).

At the same time, gonorrhea rates among men who report having sex with men has consistently gone down since 2009. “These demographic changes suggest that increased heterosexual transmission of gonorrhea in Utah might be occurring,” says the report.

Notably, Utah’s sex education stresses abstinence and does not require teachers to provide information about contraceptives, and it specifically does require information about condoms to be presented in HIV-prevention education, according to a Guttmacher report.

“This shift in the demographics of those infected with gonorrhea represents potential risk for transmission among previously unaffected sexual networks,” said a CDC release. The report adds that “this information will help to guide targeting of gonorrhea testing, treatment, and public health interventions.” Who knows, maybe one day they’ll even start requiring teachers to talk about condoms during sex-ed.