Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
Researchers have proven what most people already knew: talking about sexually transmitted infections with a partner is awkward. Scientists spoke at the American Public Health Association’s annual meeting on Wednesday about how they discovered a disconnect between the public health messages that promote STI (sexually transmitted infection) testing as a way to prevent STIs like HIV and chlamydia, and the conversations occurring in bedrooms.
“Talking to partners about STIs is an important conversation to have,” said Margo Mullinax, lead researcher for the study. “However, findings from this study suggest public health campaigns need to promote specific messages, concrete tips and tools around sexual health conversations stratified by relationship status. Campaigns should also address STI stigma and promote messages of normalcy with regard to talking about STIs.”
She said little was known about how STI testing figured into actual conversations between lovers, despite how the infections can lead to a range of health problems if they go untreated.
Researchers asked 181 sexually active men and women with an average age of 26 years old to take an anonymous online questionnaire that looked for insights into how conversations about STIs might influence behavior and decision-making.
Mullinax said the sample used included highly educated people, more than half of which were in a monogamous relationship. Most of the participants in the study were white and identified themselves as heterosexual or straight.
Margo said she was surprised to find out that the same percentage of study participants engaged in sex without a condom regardless of whether they had talked about STIs with their partner.
“Participants who reported talking to their partners about STIs say it affected their decision to engage in certain behaviors in that it made them feel more comfortable and led them to stop using condoms,” she said in a press release. “But this finding concerns me given that many participants did not also report routinely getting tested nor having detailed conversations with partners about STIs.”
The team found many participants reported they occasionally, rarely or never got tested before having sex with partners who were casual or long-term. Very few of those who did discuss STI testing talked about concurrent sexual partners or when partners’ testing occurred in relation to their last sex act.
Mullinax said just a little more than half of study participants reported feeling “very comfortable” talking to partners about how to prevent STIs. However, less than half said they felt comfortable to talk with a partner about sexual histories.
“Take time to get informed,” said Mullinax. “It will only make your conversation more comfortable and ensure that you are really protecting your health.”