STD Rates Surge Among MSM

Sexually transmitted disease. Ooo, doesn’t that sound exciting?

Usually, when you start talking about STDs, people turn the page, turn down the volume, or leave the room altogether. They don’t want to hear about it, or don’t think it affects them.

They think, “I’m not dirty, poor, or a tramp, so I don’t have to worry about the clap, the drip, or the dreaded Curse of Venus.”

You might believe you’re too smart, too safe, or too classy to avoid STDs, but remember: Bacteria and viruses, unlike most of the rest of the word, do not discriminate. Syphilis doesn’t care how fabulous you are.

New research from Minnesota health officials proves it. A new report in April details an alarming rise in the number of reportable sexually transmitted diseases in the state, especially among men who have sex with men (MSM).

Cases of syphilis, for example, are at a 30-year high in the state, up a troubling 62 percent from 2009.

Of those cases, almost 90 percent occurred in MSM. Two-thirds were reported in men living in urban areas. The mean age was about 35, although the age group most affected included men 40 to 44. Two-thirds of the cases occurred in white men, but African-American men accounted for a disproportionate 23 percent.

Perhaps most troubling is that of MSM diagnosed with early syphilis cases, a whopping 57 percent also were infected with HIV.

The report includes the caveat that, of the diagnosed syphilis cases among MSM interviewed by researchers, the most-commonly-reported risk factors included meeting partners on the Internet, anonymous sex, and no condom use.

While any case of syphilis is one too many, I find it particularly disturbing that the majority of new cases of syphilis were reported in urban-dwelling men 35 to 44—who should know better. I say “know better” because they came of age, as I did, during the AIDS crisis. They’re men you’d think would not be engaging in unsafe sex.

Sadly, as this latest report shows, “knowing better” isn’t enough. Very likely, the urgency and importance of practicing safe sex, along with the unsavory consequences of STDs, dim over time.

Perhaps, in addition to improving comprehensive sexual health education for young people, we should start creating opportunities for older men in our community to get a refresher course.

What kind of legacy are we leaving for future generations if we fail to heed the lessons we learned at such a devastating cost?

For more information on the study and STDs in general, visit

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