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Young women don't link disease with unprotected sex, survey finds

August 18, 2003|Dianne Partie Lange

Given "safe sex" education campaigns, young women might be expected to understand the disease risks associated with unprotected intercourse. That doesn't seem to be the case.

In surveying more than 1,000 unmarried 18- to 25-year-olds, a team of researchers from Duke University, the University of Washington in Seattle and the Group Health Cooperative of Puget Sound found that even when the women were having unprotected sex, they considered themselves to be at low risk for sexually transmitted diseases. In fact, their risk was equal to that of women in high-risk groups such as prostitutes and intravenous drug users.

The women were divided into student and nonstudent groups, with 56% of the students and 61% of the nonstudents saying they had had unprotected sex in the three months prior to the interview.

The nonstudents engaged in slightly riskier behavior, says lead author Dr. Kimberly S.H. Yarnall, a clinical associate professor of community and family medicine at Duke University in Durham, N.C. For instance, they were more likely to have sex with men they had met at a bar. "Considering that college students are in a milieu that encourages experimentation, we thought their behavior would be riskier."

This study was published in the August issue of Preventive Medicine.

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Dianne Partie Lange

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