A surge in STIs following the world wars and the sexual revolution, and a drop after the advent of antibiotics, were just some of the historical sexual health trends revealed in new research by Melbourne Sexual Health Centre (MSHC).
The trends were uncovered after researchers analysed 99 years of medical data recorded at the centre, which celebrates its centenary this year.
In the most comprehensive Australian study of its kind, the researchers discovered key information which they hope could help them better understand societal factors that influence STI rates within the community.
Researcher Eric Chow said the trends clearly reflect significant social events throughout history.
“We found that substantial increases in STI rates coincided with World War II, the sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s, and the last 10 years,” Dr Chow said.
“Substantial declines coincided with the advent of antibiotics and the HIV/AIDS pandemic. There were also key differences between STIs. Chancroid virtually disappeared after 1950. Syphilis fell to very low levels in women after about 1950. The declines in gonorrhoea were less marked. A substantial peak in gonorrhoea occurred in women in the early 1970s and rates are currently rising in women, albeit much less than in men.”
Dr Chow said current rates of STIs have not been seen since the 1980s, particularly the concerning rise in gonorrhoea and syphilis in the community.
“We’re not sure exactly why that is but it is something we have started investigating,” he said.
“Gonorrhoea and particularly syphilis can have serious consequences if left untreated and are highly contagious so we urge anyone who is sexually active to have regular check-ups.”
Co-author Christopher Fairley, Director of MSHC, discovered the old records tucked away at the centre by chance.
“I think the single most important point about this is that it shows the effect public health care (Medicare) and antibiotics had on reducing STI rates,” Professor Fairley said.
“Therefore, it shows how important in the current climate it is for governments to provide adequate accessible health care.”
For more, access the full paper.