Many Women Avoid Discussing HIV/AIDS, STDs With Their Partners, Health Providers, Survey Shows
Many women have never discussed HIV/AIDS or sexually transmitted diseases with their partners or health providers, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation/SELF magazine National Survey of Women on their Sexual Health, which will be published in the July issue of SELF, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation release. For the survey, which was designed by staff from the foundation, SELF and Princeton Survey Research Associates, 800 women ages 18 to 49 from across the United States were interviewed by telephone between Dec. 10, 2002, and Jan. 19, 2003. According to the survey, 50% of women said that they had not discussed HIV testing with their current partner, and 60% of women said that they had not discussed testing for more common STDs with their current partner. In addition, one in six women had withheld sexual health information from a health care provider, according to the study. "Stereotypes and misconceptions" add to the lack of communication about sexual health, and women are concerned about being embarrassed or being judged if they discuss the topic, according to the release. In addition, many women are not sure how to bring up the subject of HIV and STD testing, or they believe that a health care provider or partner does not need to know information about their sexual health. If communication about STDs does occur between partners, most study participants reported being the initiator of the discussion.
The survey also found many "information gaps" about HIV and other STDs. Four out of five women underestimated or did not know current STD rates, and almost half of the women surveyed said they would know if they were infected with an STD, despite the asymptomatic nature of many STDs. While a "large majority" of the women knew that STDs can cause fertility problems, three in five did not know that women are at an increased risk of contracting STDs; about half did not know that STDs increase the risk of contracting HIV infection; and 40% were unaware that STDs can lead to certain cancers, according to the release. While 64% of women surveyed said they had been tested for HIV, and 57% said they had been tested for other STDs, some of those women may believe they were tested for certain diseases when they actually were not. Confusion could result from misunderstandings about the purpose of a Pap test, as 40% of women said that they thought a Pap smear tested for STDs, a misconception possibly due to the connection between human papillomavirus and cervical cancer.
Tina Hoff, vice president and director of entertainment media partnerships at the Kaiser Family Foundation, said, "Sexual health issues are a critical part of women's health, yet many women think STDs are something they just don't talk about -- even with partners, health care providers, or closest friends. The stigma associated with STDs silences women, making it more difficult for them to get the information and care they need to protect themselves." Lucy Danziger, editor-in-chief of SELF, said that the survey is a "call to action for all women," adding, "Thanks to exhaustive media coverage we are aware of the dangers of heart disease and breast cancer, but every year millions of women are infected with STDs. Awareness could go a long way in stopping this" (Kaiser Family Foundation release, 6/18).