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Survey Reveals Reluctance of Young People to Discuss STIs

A new survey has revealed that young people are highly reluctant to talk with their partners about the issue of sexually transmitted infections, at least in the United States. The survey, from the American edition of Cosmopolitan, also shows that women are much more likely to talk about testing, and to actually get tested, than men. Experts say that young people are at a much bigger risk of developing asymptomatic infections that could nonetheless result in serious problems when they are older.

Troubling statistics

A report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2016 showed that cases of STIs within the United States had reached an all time high, with 50 percent of all new sexually transmitted infections being contracted by young people between the ages of 15 and 24. Yet despite this risk the Cosmopolitan.com survey showed that the great majority of young people do not talk about testing for STIs with their partners, and that more women are likely to get tested and initiate conversations about testing than men. 

1454 people aged between 18 and 35 responded to the survey from the social media accounts of both Cosmopolitan and Esquire, with as many as 47 percent saying that none of their previous partners had inquired about the results of their STI testing prior to engaging in sexual activity. 

Although 58 percent of the women respondents said they had undergone STI testing over the course of the last twelve months, just 33 percent of men had likewise. Men were also three times more likely to have never undergone STI testing than women. However women were also twice as likely to have an STI – 36 percent rather than 18 percent – than men. Almost a third of all respondents to the survey admitted that they had either had a sexually transmitted infection, or were not sure if they had or not. 

Chlamydia was the most commonly reported of all STIs at 18 percent, followed by HPV at 11 percent, oral or genital herpes at 5 percent, gonorrhoea at 4 percent, trichomoniasis at 3 percent and genital warts at just 2 percent. 1 percent of those responding admitted to having had pubic lice, scabies or pelvic inflammatory disease.

The risks of not getting tested

There are some potentially devastating risks for those who do not get tested for sexually transmitted infections. A number of STIs do not present with symptoms and thus can be undetected for a long time – but left untreated, these can result in serious problems, particularly for women. Chlamydia often has no symptoms, and there are noticeable symptoms in just 20 percent of cases of gonorrhoea in women. More serious infections can develop if they are left untreated which can cause infertility and even result in hospitalisation. 

81 percent of men are aware of where they can go to get tested for STIs, but men are not choosing to do so at the same rate as women, although women do have to take part in regular gynaecological visits at which such tests are routine. Full STI tests for heterosexual men are unlikely to be suggested by doctors at standard health checkups in the US, unless they ask for it or believe they may have been infected. This is partly due to CDC guidelines which state that not only are the consequences of chlamydia and gonorrhoea more serious for women than for men, but that men are also less likely to be infected. STI testing is often performed at facilities that make use of public funds, and have to make the most of their often limited resources.

The difference between men and women

52 percent of female respondents say they initiated conversations with their most recent partner about STI testing, compared to just 27 percent of men, although 82 percent of all respondents agree that both men and women are responsible for testing. The difference may be explained by gender socialisation, as women need to become more comfortable about such conversations and actions due to the more significant implications. 

Testing costs were not judged to be prohibitive by most respondents, and the survey also found that women are more conscientious in regards to safe sex practices. 9 percent admitted to lying to their partners about their most recent STI test. The survey results highlight the reality that young people, particularly young men, need to become more comfortable both discussing STIs and having STI tests.

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