If you’re having sex, pregnancy could be the least of your worries.

No, you have not been time-machined back to the early 1900s. This is real life. Syphilis is back. And it’s not the only Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI) re-tending in 2016.

There are countries in 2016 facing shortages of Syphilis medication for pregnant women. Why? Because it’s in high demand.

Some states in America have seen a 70% increase in Syphilis cases in the past year; reported cases of chlamydia, gonorrhoea, and syphilis have recently increased for the first time since 2006; and, in Australia, 2015 saw the worst syphilis outbreak in 30 years.

Remember, syphilis was the disease of Adolf Hitler (the least of his problems, really), Henry VIII (and probably his poor wives, all six of them), Shakespeare and, supposedly, Abraham Lincoln.

It is curable but, when left untreated, can result in brain damage, dementia, hearing loss and blindness, as well as heart problems.

The most disastrous effects, arguably, are those on the unborn children of pregnant women, who contract the disease. Last year, syphilis claimed the lives of 10 babies across Australia.

In 2000, there were only 6,000 cases of Syphilis in America, and researchers believed the disease was on it’s way to extinction. Fast forward to 2014, and there were nearly 20,000 cases — a number that has continued to rise.

Our ‘first time’ stories go from bad to worse. Post continues below video.

Chlamydia is also a problem. In the 10 years leading up to 2011, incidence of Chlamydia in Australia rose from 1,295 to 4,349 per 100,000 people. In 2014, there were 86,000 diagnosed cases.


So, why are STIs increasing? Why, in 2016, are they not going away? Why can’t we manage to stay safe and protect ourselves, and our partners, when we know the rules? We are educated on safe sex, we have access to condoms, we know the importance of communication.

Maybe it’s because Tinder has rendered sex so convenient and “easy” to attain that STIs are just a minor setback in the game that is hooking-up-with-someone-new-every-other-night (antibiotics aren’t sounding so bad, are they? Until you consider the other people affected…). STIs are hardly going to be disclosed in profile descriptions and, if you’re meeting someone for the first time, with the sole intention of having sex, a discussion about syphilis symptoms is likely going to destroy the mood. (That, right there, is the REASON for condoms, people. Get on it.)

Maybe it’s because so many of us (62 per cent of women to be exact) are shaving off our pubic hair. Completely off. And, where our skin is regularly coming into contact with probably-not-sterilised razors, we are opening ourselves up to infection. Public hair is naturally there for a reason. It acts as protection, to prevent infections taking hold. A 2012 study found shaved pubic hair correlated to a greater number of pubic lesions in viral infections such as molluscum contagiosum, condylomata acuminata and herpes simplex virus.

Whatever the reason, we can’t get it right.

We might have an excuse for syphilis. In that it is so easily transmitted through any form of sexual encounter. In fact, in some cases, it’s passed on through prolonged kissing or close bodily contact. It’s also, obviously, transferred in sex and oral sex.


But the ease of its transmission simply makes the importance of regular testing imperative. Syphilis can be easily detected through a blood test, and treated with antibiotics.

First and second-stage symptoms of syphilis include mouth ulcers, sores, rashes on the hands and feet, swollen lymph nodes and less specific symptoms like hair loss and flu.

We also, arguably, have an excuse for Chlamydia, in that it’s extremely difficult to detect.

Women may experience bleeding between periods, or pain when urinating. These are all symptoms that might also be associated with a number of other conditions that aren’t chlamydia. Chlamydia is not so easily transmitted as syphilis; it can be contracted through contact with vaginal fluids, but not through kissing or (a myth that reined in my college days) through the sharing of towels or washcloths.

If chlamydia’s seemingly innocuous symptoms are left untreated, the infection can result in pelvic inflammatory disease and infertility. But again, testing is easy. A swab test will detect the infection, and treatment involves antibiotics.

Condoms. Testing. Communication. Awareness.

We know this. But the numbers are still rising.

When will we get it right?