Wednesday, February 17, 1999
Houston, Texas
Volume 64, Issue 95

UC Satellite Reopens

Hoffman scholarship applications open

Campus groups seek funding when SFAC hearings open today

About the Cougar

Are women unaware of high STD risk?

By Heidi Messinger
Daily Targum (Rutgers U.)

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. (U-WIRE) -- Many women are at a greater risk of contracting sexually-transmitted diseases than they believe, according to a recent study.

Perceptions of risk based on good impressions of a sexual partner are relied on more heavily than testing for STDs, said Mary K. Hutchinson, assistant professor at the College of Nursing at Rutgers-Camden.

Hutchinson conducted a study of 18- to 26-year-old women to determine whether their perception of being at risk of contracting STDs is the same as their actual risk.

Even formal education about STDs does not make a big impact on many people's perception of risk, Hutchinson said.

The results of the study will not be published until later this month, when they will appear in the Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic and Neonatal Nursing and in the Journal of Family Relations, Hutchinson said.

The participants of the study consisted of a sample of 100 Black women, 100 Latina women and 100 White women. Findings were similar among each group, Hutchinson said.

More than half of the women surveyed said they did not discuss their level of sexual risk with their partners before sex, Hutchinson said.

Common reasons for not discussing risk include assumptions that their partners were low-risk individuals, they were too uncomfortable or embarrassed to talk about sex, or they just didn't think to ask, Hutchinson said.

The survey also found that condom use within ongoing relationships declines as the relationship progresses.

Women who had more than 30 partners in the past, but who were involved in monogamous relationships, perceived themselves as low-risk.

"The idea that women thought that discussing sex was too personal was very disturbing," Hutchinson said. "If you aren't comfortable talking about sex with someone you are having sex with, you are taking a serious sexual risk. If you can't trust someone enough to talk about sex, do you really want to trust your permanent health to them?"

All sexually active people are at risk, she said. Any person who has sex and thinks he or she is not at risk of contracting diseases is making an inaccurate assessment.

"Going by the kind of person someone is, being selective about who you sleep with and choosing certain kinds of partners is not a good method of protecting yourself from the permanent STDs that are out there," Hutchinson said.

Partners should bring up the topic of sex before they have sex, not during sex or foreplay, she said.

Risk can be nearly eliminated if sexual partners discuss sex early on and get tested twice before having sex without a condom, she added.

In another of Hutchinson's studies about the sexual activity of couples, she said she found many people have false perceptions about monogamous relationships as well.

Hutchinson said her work will address a number of protective strategies that help people lower their risk. The strategies include avoiding precarious situations, avoiding sex, mutual masturbation and religious use of condoms.


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