June 19, 2003
Although one in three new cases of HIV in the United States occur among women, many women feel too embarrassed to discuss STDs with their doctors or sex partners, new survey findings show.
The Kaiser Family Foundation/SELF Magazine National Survey of Women on Their Sexual Health surveyed 800 18- to 49-year-olds via telephone from December 10, 2002 to January 19, 2003. Eighty percent of the women surveyed did not know that one-third of new HIV cases occur among women, or that one-quarter of Americans are likely to get an STD at some point in their life. Sixty percent of the women surveyed were also unaware that women are more susceptible to STDs than men, and up to 65 percent did not know that an STD can lead to liver damage and an increased risk for HIV or cancer.
Currently, an estimated 65 million people in the United States are living with an incurable STD, and approximately 15 million men and women in the United States develop a new STD each year, experts say. Still, about half of U.S. women have never discussed AIDS or STDs with their doctors, according to the survey. Fifteen percent say they have deliberately withheld information about their sexual health from their doctors, and 14 percent said their doctors did not need to know such information.
Nearly 90 percent of the women surveyed said they were embarrassed to discuss sexual health issues with their partner, and a similar proportion said they worried what their partner would think of them. Sixty-nine percent said their partner did not need to know, and almost half said they believed women should not talk about such things.
While up to 64 percent of women said they had ever been tested for HIV or other STDs, 15 percent to 20 percent incorrectly believed that such testing was a routine part of their gynecological examination. Dr. Hilda Hutcherson of Columbia University said women need to demand answers and proper treatment from their doctors.