STD Risk Perception Among Young Adults

People who don’t consider themselves at risk of unhealthy outcomes won’t do anything to try to prevent them, and a 2004 article made it alarmingly clear that this could be a problem when it comes to U.S. young adults’ potential for avoiding STDs. Researchers using data on sexually experienced 18–26-year-old participants in the nationally representative Add Health study found that only one in seven perceived themselves to be at some risk of chlamydial or gonococcal infection. Even those who tested positive for one of these infections at the time of the survey didn’t necessarily recognize or acknowledge their risk: Only a third thought that they had some chance of being infected. Yet there was some encouraging news, in that participants who were infected or who reported behaviors associated with risk were more likely than others to recognize that they were at risk. All in all, the analyses mainly highlighted what the authors called the “tremendous public health challenge” of preventing STD infection among young people in the U.S.

Cover illustrations of Margaret Sanger © Matthew and Eve Levine