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Women in 20's Compromising Sexual Health


( - May 14, 2004) Women in their 20s are four times more likely than men of the same age to have had one or more sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). This is according to a survey of 400 women, which was sponsored by Instead Inc. In addition, the survey showed that while 70 percent of these women believe condoms are the best protection against STDs, only 33 percent are actually using them.

The statistics evidence a surprising lack of sexual control and awareness among younger women, according to Barbara North, M.D., a physician and medical director for Instead.

"Women historically have not been in control of their sexuality, but the feminist movement has made tremendous strides in helping them gain greater control and better methods for protecting themselves," says Dr. North. "It's tragic to think women in their 20s today may be sacrificing that progress and their own sexual health."

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, two-thirds of those affected by STDs are under the age of 25. Of this population, women are disproportionately affected (versus men), suffering severe symptoms including Pelvic Inflammatory Disease, infertility, ectopic pregnancy, and cancer of the reproductive tract. Ironically, twenty-something women surveyed were more likely than the men to say they were "not at all concerned" with contracting an STD.

"Women need to manage their sexual health since they are at greater risk for suffering both immediate and long-term effects of STDs," said Dr. North. "In theory, younger women should be more vigilant than older generations because they've grown up knowing about AIDS and being exposed to information in school and in the media about the risks involved with unprotected sex."

This, however, is not the case. Of the women interviewed, 17 percent of those in their 20s had an STD at some time in their life compared to only 8 percent of women in their 30s. Women in their 20s were also more willing to defer to men, with as many as one out of three who use contraception choosing to let the man control the contraceptive decision.

"While a woman may get pregnant or suffer more severely from an STD, she still, in large part, relies on either a man or a medical professional to dictate her sexual health," Dr. North said. "But science is trying to change that with microbicides, which have been under development since the late 1980s."

Microbicides are gels, films, foams, pills and sponges applied topically by women to block the AIDS-causing virus HIV, other STDs, and possibly unwanted pregnancies. Although none have been approved as yet by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, clinical research shows they have the potential of giving women a level of control over their sexual and reproductive health that they've never had before.

Only 4 percent of the women in Instead's survey had heard of a microbicide; none of these respondents were in their 20s.

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