Having sex can be fun and talking about sex
can be fun. Talking about sexually transmitted infections with a sexual
interest, however, is a totally different matter, according to new research
from Indiana University's Centre for Sexual Health Promotion.
The study, to be discussed during the
American Public Health Association's annual meeting, found a disconnect between
the public health messages that promote STI testing as a way to prevent STIs
such as HIV and Chlamydia and the conversations or lack of them occurring in
"Talking to partners about STIs is an
important conversation to have," said Margo Mullinax, lead researcher for
"Talk about testing: What sexual partners discuss in relation to STI
status and why". "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."
STIs, if untreated, can lead to a range of
health problems including infertility, so a growing public health emphasis has
been on preventing STIs through testing. Mullinax said little was known,
however, about how STI testing figured into actual conversations between
lovers, particularly among the college-age crowd that accounts for a
disproportionate number of new STI cases nationwide.
Talking about STIs
She recruited 181 sexually active men and
women, average age 26, to take an anonymous online questionnaire that probed
the issue, looking for insights into how conversations about STIs might
influence behaviour and decision-making.
She described the sample as highly
educated, with many participants who commented on their own work in sexual
health education. More than half were in monogamous relationships. Most of the
participants were white and identified themselves as heterosexual or straight.
Mullinax said she was surprised to learn
that about the same percentage of study participants engaged in sex without a
condom, regardless of whether they talked about STIs with their partners.
"Participants who reported talking to
their partners about STIs say it affected their decision to engage in certain behaviours
in that it made them feel more comfortable and led them to stop using
condoms," she said. "But this finding concerns me, given that many
participants did not also report routinely getting tested nor having detailed
conversations with partners about STIs."
Some of the other findings:
participants reported that they occasionally, rarely or never got tested before
having sex with partners who were casual (50.3%) or long-term (38.7%).
the people who did discuss STI testing, very few discussed concurrent sexual
partners or when partners' testing occurred in relation to their last sex act,
and only half clarified what types of STIs their partner had been tested for.
These issues are important components of assessing STI risk.
a third of participants said they told a partner they didn't have an STI even
though they hadn't been tested since their last sexual partner.
Mullinax said just a little more than half
of study participants reported feeling "very comfortable" talking to
partners about how to prevent STIs. Less than half felt "very
comfortable" talking with a partner about sexual histories. Comfort levels
improved and conversations became easier when people felt better informed about
STIs and had practice talking about STIs with partners
"Take time to get informed," she
said. "It will only make your conversation more comfortable and ensure
that you are really protecting your health."