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Study Finds Most Women Quiet About STDs

A new study finds that women remain reluctant in broaching important topics like sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). A Kaiser Family Foundation study appearing this month in Self magazine reported that while most women are sexually active, they aren’t talking about their sexual health with doctors or partners.

Of 800 women (ages 18 to 49) surveyed between December 2002 and January 2003, researchers found that fewer than half have discussed HIV/AIDS or other STDs with their doctors. Similarly, roughly half have never talked about HIV testing and 60 percent have never mentioned testing for other STDs with their partners.

Researchers attribute the silence to the stigma of having an STD: seventy percent of women said they would feel more embarrassed about having an STD than about any other health issue, according to WebMD. This silence highlights a dangerous information gap. For example, despite STDs ranking as the second highest health risk for women (first is heart disease), most women cited breast, uterine, ovarian and cervical cancer as their top health concerns, reported CBSNews.com. Sixty percent of the women surveyed were unaware that women are more susceptible to STDs than men, and more than 65 percent did not know STDs can lead to increased risks for HIV, cancer, and liver damage, according to Reuters Health. Women also lacked knowledge about tests taken during their gynecological visits. Some incorrectly believed that checks for STDs and HIV are routine, or that all STDs are checked using the same test. Nearly ten percent thought the Pill–the most popular form of birth control–provided some protection against HIV and STDs.

Fortunately, the survey found that younger, single women are more informed and open to discussing their sexual health. Nearly 90% of single women have suggested using a condom to their partner, and 76% have purchased condoms.

One in three new cases of HIV in the US occur in women. Each year, fifteen million people in the US contract an STD.

Sources:

Take Charge of Your Sexual Health Survey, Summer 2003; Kaiser Family Foundation press release 6/18/03; WebMD 6/18/03; CBSNews.com 6/19/03; Reuters Health 6/18/03