Attitudes Toward Safe Sex Do Not Match Behavior Among U.S. Adults, Survey Shows

April 7, 2004

Although 84% of U.S. adults say they take "necessary" steps to protect themselves against sexually transmitted diseases, their actions do not support their claims, according to a survey conducted by Harris Interactive for the American Social Health Association, the AP/Long Island Newsday reports (AP/Long Island Newsday, 4/6). The survey -- which was funded by drug maker GlaxoSmithKline -- was conducted to assess the sexual attitudes, behaviors and knowledge of STDs among U.S. residents between the ages of 18 and 35 as part of an educational initiative marking STD Awareness Month 2004, which is April, according to an ASHA press release (ASHA release, 4/6). Researchers between March 3 and March 8 surveyed 1,155 adults ages 18 to 35 and found a gap between the "precautions people claimed to take and their actual behavior," according to USA (Lilleston, USA, 4/6). Although 63% of respondents said they were "well-informed" about the risks associated with sex, 82% of participants said they never use protection against STDs during oral sex, 64% do not use protection during anal sex and 47% do not use protection during vaginal sex (Fox, Reuters, 4/6). In addition, although 93% of survey participants said they believed their current sexual partners did not have STDs, approximately one-third of respondents said they had never discussed the issue with their partners. Approximately 53% of respondents said their partners had undergone screening for STDs (USA, 4/6).

Researchers found that participants had the least knowledge of viral hepatitis compared with other STDS, including HIV, chlamydia, human papillomavirus, genital herpes and gonorrhea, according to the survey fact sheet (ASHA survey fact sheet, 4/6). Researchers also found that more than 50% of respondents had not been vaccinated against hepatitis A and hepatitis B or were "unsure" of their immunization status, according to the AP/Newsday (AP/Long Island Newsday, 4/6). According to the survey, 90% of respondents were aware that HIV/AIDS, gonorrhea and herpes are sexually transmitted, but only 43% were aware that hepatitis A could be transmitted sexually and only 56% were aware that hepatitis B could be transmitted sexually, USA reports (USA, 4/6). Approximately 55% of participants were unaware that hepatitis A can be prevented with a vaccine, and 42% were unaware that hepatitis B is preventable with an immunization. In addition, 28% of respondents were unaware that a person could have vaccine-preventable hepatitis and not be aware of their infection, according to the survey fact sheet (ASHA survey fact sheet, 4/6). ASHA President and CEO James Allen said that hepatitis A and hepatitis B "are the only two STDS ... that are vaccine preventable." He added that people "need to talk to their doctor about that if they are at risk" (AP/Long Island Newsday, 4/6).

Other Findings, Reaction
Other findings from the survey include:

  • 51% of participants said they had never spoken to a health care provider about STDs, but 68% of respondents said that STD tests should be part of routine health exams.

  • 68% of participants reported not feeling concerned about contracting an STD, compared with 18% who reported concern about contracting an STD.

  • Approximately 37% of respondents said they believed that they are "very knowledgeable about STDs" -- a higher percentage than for most other common health problems, USA reports.

"For years, we have known that perceived stigma has been a barrier to discussion of STDs, and this latest survey shows that people simply don't believe they are at risk," Allen said, adding that "it is troubling that there is such a large portion of people who still feel invincible" (USA, 4/6). He added, "[P]eople's lack of awareness about the various STDs only underscores the need for continued education to prevent the spread of these serious diseases" (Reuters, 4/6).

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