Few young people protect themselves against STIs during casual sex

Published 2011-06-03 00:00. Updated 2013-11-26 10:29

[NEWS 2011-06-03] A new study from Karolinska Institutet shows that the large majority of sexually active young men and women in Sweden seldom, if ever, report condoms being used during casual sex. At the same time, only 10 per cent believe themselves to run a serious risk of catching a sexually transmitted infection (STI). The study is the largest to date to specifically examine casual sexual relationships in which the risk of infection is high.

Amy LeválPhoto: Mats Levál

The study in question, which is published in the digital scientific journal PLoS ONE, is based on a nationwide survey of 20,000 randomly selected women and men between18-30. The researchers found that roughly half of all sexually active young women report that condoms are rarely or never used while engaging in causal sex. The corresponding figure for young men was 40 per cent.

The results also show significant gender differences in STI risk-awareness. Male use of condoms during casual sex was not, for example, linked at all to any appreciation of the danger of infection, and men who never used condoms considered themselves at low risk. On the other hand, women whose partners did not use condoms during casual sex believed themselves to be at high risk for contracting an STI.

"Women judged the risk of infection without a condom to be high. Why however they still expose themselves to these situations given that they believe their risk for catching an STI is high is unclear and something that requires further examination," says principal investigator Professor Pär Sparén.

The study also showed that women who had an early sexual debut were much more inclined to have unprotected casual sex later on in life; women who first had intercourse under the age of 15 proved twice as likely to have unprotected casual sex later in life than those who had their sexual debut at a later age.

"The results indicate a specific STI risk group that can be approached already in lower secondary school with preventative initiatives for promoting condom use and motivational health consultations," says nurse and doctoral candidate Amy Levál, one of the researchers involved in the project. "Given the huge differences we found between men and women, we should also be thinking about more gender-specific preventative measures and investigating which barriers women and men perceive in using condoms in these high-risk situations."


Amy Levál, Karin Sundström, Alexander Ploner, Lisen Arnheim Dahlström, Catarina Widmark, Pär Sparén

Assessing Perceived Risk and STI Prevention Behavior: A National Population-Based Study with Special Reference to HPV

PLoS ONE, online 2 May 2011 (open access)

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