Reuters Health (10.15.03) - Wednesday, October 29, 2003
Teenage girls who have unprotected sex and engage in other
risky sexual behavior may underestimate their odds of
contracting an STD, a recent study shows.
"Most young women in this study, who were all sexually active
and who demonstrated risk for STDs, did not perceive that they
were at risk for infection," said Dr. Kathleen A. Ethier of
Researchers tracked 209 young women, mostly African-American
or Latina, over the course of 18 months. During that time,
almost one out of four adolescent girls in the study were
diagnosed with chlamydia or gonorrhea, even though "most of
those had predicted that there was little or no chance of that
happening," investigators reported.
About 89 percent of the girls felt they were at little to no
risk of contracting an STD. However, 74 percent reported
engaging in risky sex, having symptoms of an STD or having had
an STD in the past. Each girl's risk factors for STDs,
including unprotected sex and multiple partners, had little
effect on her perception of risk, according to the study,
"Adolescent Women Underestimate Their Susceptibility to
Sexually Transmitted Infections," published in Sexually
Transmitted Infections (2003; 79:408-411).
"Adolescents may either be uninformed about or ignoring their
risk for sexually transmitted diseases," according to study
leader Ethier. She said young people may know about risk
factors for STDs but not connect those facts with their own
behavior. Even when they engage in risky behavior, "many
adolescents still feel that it can't happen to them," she
noted. "That is clearly a dangerous assumption."
Why the young women in the study did not think they were at
risk remains unclear, according to Ethier. Possible
explanations include their relationships with male partners
and the attitudes of people in their communities, she said,
although she noted that the study did not examine those
"We need to know more about why adolescents are not accurately
assessing their risk for infection," Ethier stated. Without a
clear understanding of the problem, it will be difficult to
design programs to tackle it, she said.