The March 2003 issue of The Journal of Adolescent Health featured a study that examined the link between relationship and sexual attributes among young sexually active women and their self-reported rate of bacterial sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
Researchers wanted to determine whether racial differences in partner selection between non-Hispanic Black and non-Hispanic White women contributed to the dramatically high rates of gonorrhea and chlamydia among young Black women.
Researchers examined interviews of 1,183 non-Hispanic White and 695 non-Hispanic Black women, ages 15-24, taken from the 1995 National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG). These women all reported at least one lifetime male sexual partner. The NSFG participants were asked about their STD history; whether they had been married, divorced, or had lived with a partner; the ages of their partners; whether their partners had been non-monogamous; and whether they had had casual sexual partners in the two years preceding their interviews.
Researchers defined "non-monogamous" as having intercourse with more than one woman at the same time. A "casual partner" was defined as a sexual partner with whom the participant had intercourse without being in a committed, romantic relationship.
History of STDs
- 11% of Black women reported ever having been diagnosed with a bacterial STD compared to 5.6% of White women
- 6.9% of Black women reported having chlamydia compared to 4.5% of White women
- 5% of Black women reported having gonorrhea compared to 1.1% of White women
- 1.5% of Black women reported having syphilis compared to 0.09% of White women
Marital and Cohabitation History
- 14% of Black women reported ever having been married compared to 29% of White women
- Of these, 31% of Black women reported having been divorced, separated, or widowed compared to 15% of White women
- 19% of Black women who had never been married reported having lived with a partner compared to 30% of never-married White women
- 35% of Black women reported having had a non-monogamous partner in the 12 months preceding the NSFG compared to 22% of White women
- 62% of Black women reported having a partner three or more years older than themselves in the three years preceding the NSFG compared to 60% of White women
- 39% of Black women reported having a "casual" sexual partner in the three years preceding the NSFG compared to 35% of White women
Researchers found that although characteristics of sexual partners and relationships often differed by race, this did not explain racial disparities in STDs.
As a result, the researchers suggest that STD prevention and interventions should not be limited to "high risk" young women or to young women with "high risk" partners. Instead they encourage health care providers to screen and treat all young women and men (even those in monogamous relationships) for STDs early on and to incorporate STD screening in gynecological exams in order to stop the spread of bacterial STDs among sexually active young Black women.
- Nina T. Harawa et al., "Do Differences in Relationship and Partner Attributes Explain Disparities in Sexually Transmitted Disease Among Young White and Black Women?," Journal of Adolescent Health, vol. 32, no. 3, pp. 187-91.