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Why men and women lie about sex, and how this complicates STD control

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When it comes to reporting the number of sex partners or how often they have sexual intercourse, men and women both lie. While men tend to overreport it, women have a tendency to underreport it. Although the story is not that simple and clear-cut, I have discovered some interesting reasons why this is the case – and why it matters to doing research on sexual health.

Lying is an inherent aspect of reporting sexual behaviors. For instance, more females report being a virgin (i.e., had not had sexual intercourse) despite having had genital contact with a partner, compared to males.

I have studied sexual avoidance and also frequency of sex in patient populations. In this regard I have always been interested in gender differences in what they do and what they report. This is in line with my other research on gender and sex differences.

The low validity and usefulness of self-reported sexual behavior data is very bad news for public health officials. Sexual behavior data should be both accurate and reliable, as they are paramount for effective reproductive health interventions to prevent HIV and STD. When men and women misreport their sexual behaviors, it undermines program designers’ and health care providers’ ability to plan appropriately.

Pregnant virgins, and STDs among the abstinent

A very clear example is the proportion of self-reported virginal status among pregnant women. In a study of multi-ethnic National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, also known as Add Health, a nationally representative study of American youth, 45 women of 7,870 women reported at least one virgin pregnancy.

Another example is the incidence of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) which are not expected among young adults reporting sexual abstinence. Yet more than 10 percent of young adults who had a confirmed positive STD reported abstaining from any sexual intercourse in the last year before STD testing.

If we ask youth who have had sexual experience, only 22 percent of them report the same date of first sex the second time we ask about it. On average, people revise their (reported) age at first sex to older ages the second time. Boys have higher inconsistency reporting their first sex compared to females. Males are more likely than females to give inconsistent sexual information globally.

Why don’t people tell the truth about sex?

Why do people lie about their sexual behavior? There are many reasons. One is that people underreport stigmatized activities, such as having multiple sexual partners among women. They overreport the normative ones, such as higher frequency of sex for men. In both cases, people think their actual behavior would be considered socially unacceptable. This is also called social desirability or social approval bias.

Social desirability bias causes problems in health research. It reduces reliability and validity of self-reported sexual behavior data. Simply said, social desirability helps us look good.

As gender norms create different expectations about socially acceptable behavior of men and women, males and females face pressures in reporting certain (socially accepted) behaviors.

In particular, self-reports on premarital sexual experience is of poor quality. Also self-reports of infidelity are less valid.

Although most studies suggest these differences are due to the systematic tendency of men and women to exaggerate and hide their number of partners, there are studies that suggest much of this difference is driven by a handful of men and women who grossly inflate and underreport their sexual encounters.

Even married couples lie

Men and women also lie when we ask them who is making sexual decisions regarding who has more power when it comes to sexual decision-making.

We do not expect disagreement when we ask the same question from husbands and wives in the same couples. But, interestingly, there is a systematic disagreement. More interestingly, in most cases when spouses disagree, husbands are more likely to say “yes” and wives “no.” The findings are interpreted in terms of gendered strategies in the interview process.

Not all of the gender differences in reported sexual behaviors are due to men’s and women’s selective under- and over- reporting of sexual acts. And, some of the sexual behaviors do vary by gender. For instance, men have more sex than women, and men less commonly use condoms. Men have more casual partners, regardless of the validity of their report.

Secretive females, swaggering males

Studies have found that on average, women report fewer nonmarital sexual partners than men, as well as more stable longer relationships. This is in line with the idea that in general men “swagger” (i.e., exaggerate their sexual activity), while women are “secretive” (i.e., underreport sex).

Structural factors such as social norms shape men’s and women’s perceptions of appropriate sexual behaviors. Society expects men to have more sexual partners, and women to have fewer sexual partners.

According to the sexual double standard, the same sexual behavior is judged differently depending on the gender of the (sexual) actor (Milhausen and Herold 2001). Interestingly, men are more likely to endorse a double standard than women.

In the presence of sexual double standards, males are praised for their sexual contacts, whereas females are derogated and stigmatized for the same behaviors, “He’s a Stud, She’s a Slut.”

Research suggests that lifetime sexual partnerships affect peer status of genders differently. A greater number of sexual partners is positively correlated with boys’ peer acceptance, but negatively correlated with girls’ peer acceptance.

Self-serving bias is common

As humans, self-serving bias is a part of how we think and how we act. A common type of cognitive bias, self-serving bias can be defined as an individual’s tendency to attribute positive events and attributes to their own actions but negative events and attributes to others and external factors. We report on sexual behaviors which are normative and accepted to protect ourselves, and avoid stress and conflict. That will reduce our distinction from our surroundings, and will help us feel safe.

As a result, in our society, men are rewarded for having a high number of sexual partners, whereas women are penalized for the same behavior.

The only long-term solution is the ongoing decline in “double standard” about sexual morality. Until then, researchers should continue questioning the accuracy of their data. Computerized interviews may be only a partial solution. Increasing privacy and confidentiality is another partial solution.

Complete Article HERE!

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What does ‘sex positive’ mean?

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Sex positive. It’s a term that’s been adopted and broadcast by celebrities, feminists and activists alike over the past few years. Joining the ranks are Lena Dunham, Amy Schumer and Ilana Glazer, to name just a few of the celebrities opening up dialogue about sex.

But sex positivity isn’t just another buzzword to look up on Urban Dictionary. It’s a framework that counselors, medical professionals and universities are using to educate and talk with young people about issues relating to sexuality and sexual health.

What is sex positivity? And what does it mean to be “sex positive”?

Carl Olsen, a program coordinator in Colorado State University’s Women and Gender Advocacy Center, says sex positivity is a philosophy — an outlook on interpersonal relationships.

He said the term “sex positive” can be interpreted in different ways. For most, it involves having positive attitudes about sex and feeling comfortable with one’s own sexual identity and with the sexual behaviors of others, and destigmatizing sex.

“Most of our programming lands in the area of consent and prevention,” Olsen told USA TODAY College. “Most of the students here have had zero sex ed or abstinence-only [sex education], and that can lead to uncomfortable situations talking about sex. … We are just absolutely cool with however many sexual partners you have had, however many times you’ve had sex or if you’ve had zero sex at all — as long as it is all done consensually.”

Overall, Olsen says sex positivity is about establishing healthy relationships.

Yana Mazurkevich, an Ithaca College junior and activist, went viral last year for her photo series “Dear Brock Turner.” Since then, Mazurkevich has advocated for sexual assault prevention and awareness. Mazurkevich says she assumes the label of sex positive. To her, sex positivity is putting away shame or feelings of embarrassment in order to learn more about healthy sex.

“It allows you to open yourself up to facts, to educate yourself and pass that along to other people,” Mazurkevich says. “Getting yourself out of your comfort zone and learning how to talk about sex is the most vital thing so that you can be comfortable to open your mouth and not be too scared to do anything or say how you feel.”

What are the common myths or misconceptions regarding sex positivity?

Contrary to what some believe, Olsen said that sex positivity is not about having lots of sex.

At its core is the idea of consent and owning your own sexuality in the most comfortable way possible. For some people this means having lots of sex. But for other people it might mean abstaining — and that’s okay.

In current U.S. culture, and often in the college setting, Olsen said women are shamed for wanting and having pleasure from sex. The “virgin vs. slut dichotomy,” as he calls it, dictates that women can only fall into one category or the other, with stigma attached to both.

A lot of this, he says, comes down to socialization. Men can be socialized to believe that they need to have a lot of sex to show masculinity, while women are socialized to fear or feel shame about their bodies.

According to CSU’s Women’s Advocacy Center, another misconception is that sex positivity is only for women. Sex positivity challenges these notions by encouraging people of all genders to understand their own sexuality and to engage in relationships that affirm their desires. This includes people who want to abstain and those who love one-night-stands. As long as it’s consensual, there is no judgment.

However, some students still find that they encounter criticism for being open about their sexuality.

Mazurkevich says her sex-positive attitude has caused some people to judge her. “I hate the word ‘slut.’ It should be out of the dictionary,” she told USA TODAY College. “I think people should have as much sex as you want as long as they are safe, smart and consensual.”

Is there an app for that? You know there is

The University of Oregon has taken a unique approach to using sex positivity as an educational tool on campus. In a joint effort between the Office of Title IX, the Health Center and numerous student groups, the school released a smartphone mobile app titled SexPositive.

The app combines technology and language targeted at 18-23 year-olds to help students make healthy sexual decisions. The goals of the app are to decrease transmission of sexually transmitted infections (STI) and sexual violence, and to increase healthy communication.

“The university takes a broad approach to educating our students about behaviors and choices that may affect their current and future health, and their overall quality of life,” said Paula Staight, health promotions director for the university health center in a statement to the campus community last year. “Being informed and adding to a student’s existing knowledge is a powerful prevention effort.”

How long has sex positivity been around?

The term sex positive has only become widely acknowledged during the past decade, though the foundation has been around since the 1920s, when psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich, a student of Sigmund Freud, argued that sexuality was normal and healthy, and wrote that a good and healthy sex life led to improved overall well-being.

As feminist movements grew, changed and popularized over the years, the term has been used and molded to help liberate communities from patriarchal or heteronormative assumptions about sex and relationships.

And today, sex positivity is more common than ever. Take for example, the women of Girls or Broad City. Sex positivity has come to be categorized by realistic and unfiltered portrayals of sex and what that means to the young people navigating it.

Complete Article HERE!

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High-risk sex, girl-on-girl experimenting linked among NYC teens

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By Susan Edelman

Nearly half the Big Apple’s sexually active high-school girls have had female partners — and many engage in behavior that endangers their health, an alarming new study finds.

Researchers from New York University and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine based their findings on a 2013 survey of public high-school students citywide — but most heavily in “high-risk neighborhoods” in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Manhattan.

Of 4,600 girls surveyed, 1,101, or 27.5 percent, were sexually active. Of those, 513, or 46.6 percent, reported same-sex experiences, according to the study, published this month in the Journal of Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology.

This “vulnerable population of girls” who engage in same-sex or bisexual activity are twice as likely as heterosexual teens to be sexually active. The researchers also found:

  • These girls start having sex sooner, have more sexual partners and suffer more “intimate partner violence.”
  • They are less likely to use contraceptive methods — putting them at higher risk of unplanned pregnancy if they also have sex with boys.
  • They use more alcohol, marijuana and other illicit drugs.
  • They report more suicidal thoughts or attempts. Girls “not sure” of their sexual orientation are at highest risk of trying to kill themselves.
  • Even though female-to female transmission of HIV is possible, many of these girls do not test for it or other sex-related diseases.

Dr. Chanelle Coble, an adolescent pediatrician and assistant professor at NYU Langone Medical Center, co-authored the study with Einstein assistant professors and psychologists Rosy Chhabra and Ellen Silver.

The researchers found the abundance of same-sex activity even though not all teens who indulged identified themselves as lesbian or bi-sexual.

“Just looking at how someone describes themselves doesn’t tell the whole story,” Coble said. “When they’re young, it’s harder for them to be specific about their identity — they’re still exploring and figuring it out.”

An advocate for lesbian and bisexual youth called the study’s results, “disheartening, but not surprising.”

Lesbian and bisexual girls are often stigmatized and treated with hostility, said Emily Greytak, research director for GLSEN, a Manhattan-based group that promotes safe schools for LGBT students.

“That can lead to more risky behavior, and takes a toll on their health,” she said.

The surveys were conducted by the city Department of Health for the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Complete Article HERE!

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Inadequate sex education creating ‘health time bomb’

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‘Shockingly high’ numbers of STI diagnoses prompt councils to call for compulsory sex education in UK secondary schools

A school nurse giving sex education advice to year 10 students at a school in Devon.

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Inadequate sex and relationships education (SRE) in schools is creating “a ticking sexual health time bomb”, councils are warning, amid concern over high numbers of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) among young people.

The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents 370 councils in England and Wales, has joined the growing clamour urging the government to make sex education compulsory in all secondary schools. Currently it is mandatory in local authority-maintained schools, but not in academies and free schools which make up 65% of secondaries.

Izzi Seccombe, chair of the LGA’s community wellbeing board, said it was a major health protection issue. “The lack of compulsory sex and relationship education in academies and free schools is storing up problems for later on in life, creating a ticking sexual health time bomb, as we are seeing in those who have recently left school.

“The shockingly high numbers of STI diagnoses in teenagers and young adults, particularly in the immediate post-school generation, is of huge concern to councils.

The LGA argues that it is a health protection issue, with 141,000 new STI diagnoses for 20- to 24-year-olds in England in 2015 and 78,000 for those aged 15-19. Sexual health is one of local government’s biggest areas of public health spending, with approximately £600m budgeted annually.

The LGA appeal came as the government was reported to be close to making an announcement regarding SRE and PSHE (personal, social, health and economic education), after the education secretary, Justine Greening, flagged up the issue as a priority for government.

Campaigners hope the announcement will be made during the next stage of the children and social work bill, which is passing through parliament. An amendment with cross-party support was tabled last week which, if carried, would would amount to the biggest overhaul in sex education in 17 years, but it is not yet clear what the government announcement will amount to, and crucially whether it will make SRE compulsory.

Seccombe said: “We believe that making sex and relationship education compulsory in all secondary schools, not just council-maintained ones, could make a real difference in reversing this trend, by preparing pupils for adulthood and enabling them to better take care of themselves and future partners.”

The LGA says while SRE should be made compulsory for secondary school children, with statutory guidance on key issues including sexual health, parents should still be given the option of taking their children from the lessons.

Tory MP Maria Miller was among those proposing the amendment to the bill last week. It followed an inquiry by the women and equalities committee, chaired by Miller, which heard that most children have seen online pornography by the time they leave primary school and two thirds will have been asked for a sexual digital image of themselves before they leave secondary school.

According to Miller, research has shown that just one in four children at secondary school receives any teaching on sex and relationship issues, and Ofsted has said that when it is taught the quality of teaching is often poor.

“Different interest groups cannot agree on a way forward that suits them and in the meantime we are letting down a generation of children who are not being taught how to keep themselves safe in an online, digital world,” said Miller.

“We are not teaching them that pornography isn’t representative of a typical relationship, that sexting images are illegal and could be distributed to child abuse websites and how to be aware of the signs of grooming for sexual exploitation.

“Overwhelmingly parents and children are fed up and want change. They want compulsory lessons in school to teach children and young people about consent and healthy relationships.”

Complete Article HERE!

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How a Cervical Cancer Scare Made Me Take My Sexual Health More Seriously Than Ever

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My doctor’s advice on how to not get HPV again threw me for a loop.

By Rachel Bowyer

Before I had an abnormal Pap smear five years ago, I didn’t even really know what that meant. I’d been going to the gyno since I was a teenager, but I never once really thought about what a Pap smear was actually testing for. I just knew I’d have a “twinge” of discomfort, as my doc always says, and then it would be over. But when my doctor called me to tell me I needed to come back in for more testing, I was pretty concerned. (Here, find more on how to decipher your abnormal Pap smear results.)

She assured me that abnormal Paps are actually quite normal, especially for women in their 20s. Why? Well, the more sexual partners you have, the more likely you are to get human papillomavirus (HPV), which is what generally causes the abnormal results. I quickly found out that it was the cause of mine, too. Most of the time, HPV resolves on its own, but in some cases, it can escalate into cervical cancer. What I didn’t know at the time is that there are several steps between testing positive for HPV and actually having cervical cancer. After having a couple of colposcopies, procedures where a tiny bit of tissue is removed from your cervix for closer examination (yes, it’s as uncomfortable as it sounds), we discovered that I had what’s known as high-grade squamous intraepithelial lesions. That’s just a technical way of saying that the HPV I had was more advanced and more likely to turn into cancer than other kinds. I was scared, and I got even more scared when I found out I had to have a procedure to remove the tissue on my cervix that was affected, and that it needed to be done ASAP—before it got worse. (According to new research, cervical cancer is deadlier than previously thought.)

Within two weeks of finding out about my abnormal Pap, I had something called a loop extrosurgical excision procedure, or LEEP for short. It involves using a very thin wire with an electrical current to cut away precancerous tissue from the cervix. Normally, this can be done with local anesthesia, but after an attempt that went awry (apparently, local anesthetic isn’t as effective for everyone as it’s supposed to be, and I found that out the hard way…), I had to make a second trip to the hospital to have it done. This time, I was sedated. After six weeks, I was declared healthy and ready to go, and told I needed to have a Pap smear every three months for the next year. Then, I’d go back to having them once yearly. Let’s just say I’m not a great patient, so after all was said and done I knew I never wanted to have to go through this process again. Since there are over 100 strains of HPV, I knew it was a real possibility that I could contract it again. Only a small number of the strains cause cancer, but at that point, I really didn’t want to take any chances.

When I asked my doctor how to prevent this situation from happening again, her advice really surprised me. “Become monogamous,” she said. “That’s my only option?” I thought. I was dealing with the perils of the New York City dating scene at the time, and at that point couldn’t even imagine meeting someone I’d want to go on more than five dates with, let alone finding my mate for life. I had always been under the impression that as long as I was *safe* about sex, opting not to settle down wouldn’t be detrimental to my health. I almost always used condoms and got tested for STIs regularly.

Turns out, even if you use a condom every single time you have sex, you can still get HPV because condoms don’t offer complete protection against it. Even when used correctly, you can still have skin-to-skin contact when using a condom, which is how HPV is passed from one person to another. Pretty crazy, right? I didn’t think there was anything wrong with not wanting to be monogamous (and still don’t), so it was hard to grasp the fact that my ideological stance on sex was directly opposed to what was best for my sexual health. Was my only option truly to settle down at 23 and decide to only have sex with one person for the rest of my life? I wasn’t ready for that.

But according to my doctor, the answer was essentially, yes. To me, this seemed extreme. She repeated to me that the fewer partners you have, the lower your risk of contracting HPV. Of course, she was right. Though you can still get HPV from a long-term partner that could take years to show up, once your body clears whatever strains they have, you won’t be able to get it from them again. As long as you and your partner are only having sex with each other, you’re good to go in terms of re-infection. At the time, I was pretty taken aback by the fact that the best thing I could do to protect my sexual health was basically to not have sex until I found “the one.” What if I never found that person? Should I just be celibate forever!? For the next couple of years every time I even thought about having sex with someone, I had to ask myself, “Is this really worth it?” Talk about a mood killer. (FYI, these STIs are much harder to get rid of than they used to be.)

Truthfully, it didn’t turn out to be such a bad thing. Whenever I decided to have sex with someone in the years after that, not only did I follow safe-sex practices to the letter, but I also knew that I had strong enough feelings about the other person for it to be worth the risk I was facing. Basically, that meant I was genuinely emotionally invested in every person I slept with. While some would say that’s how it should be all the time, I don’t really subscribe to that school of thought—in principle. In practice, however, I did save myself a ton of heartache. Since I had fewer partners who I got to know better, I dealt with less post-sex ghosting. Some people might not mind that, but even when I wasn’t super-invested in someone, the ghosting part almost always sucked.

Now, five years later, I happen to be in a long-term monogamous relationship. While I can’t say that it happened directly because of my experience or my doctor’s advice, it’s certainly a relief when what your heart wants and what’s best for your health happen to match up. And not having to constantly worry about HPV the way I once did? Love.

Complete Article HERE!

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