Safe to sit: Third of Americans think they could contract STDs from public toilet

NEW YORK — Sexually-transmitted diseases are an unpleasant topic for pretty much everyone, but perhaps some people wouldn’t be so terrified of STDs if they had a bit more knowledge on the subject. A new survey of 2,000 sexually active Americans illustrates just how misinformed a significant portion of Americans are when it comes to STDs.

The survey, commissioned by LetsGetChecked for Sexual Health Awareness Month, reveals that many people still incorrectly believe that public toilets house sexually-transmitted diseases. About one-third of the respondents say they think they can contract an STD from using a dirty public toilet.

Another 22% of survey respondents wrongly think they could contract an STD through physical contact, while 24% erroneously believe they could become infected from sharing a glass of water with someone diagnosed with a sexually-transmitted disease.

Surprisingly, many respondents couldn’t even identify some of the most common STDs. While a fairly respectable 63% of respondents were able to correctly identify gonorrhea as a common STD, less than half (48%) named herpes, and only 42% could remember chlamydia.

Meanwhile, rather humorously,  28% identified “claphytis” as an STD, and 21% identified “strenedia,” both of which are obviously non-existent words, let alone medical conditions.

Despite all of this confusion, 81% of respondents still say they consider themselves knowledgeable about sexual health.

Perhaps the majority of this misinformation can be traced back to a lack of sexual education in schools. Only 52% of study respondents say they took sexual education classes in school, and of those, 53% say their education was centered on “abstinence-only” teachings.

“Taking responsibility for your sexual health is so important, not just for you, but for your partner(s),” says Dr. Robert Mordkin, Chief Medical Officer of LetsGetChecked, in a statement.

It’s very clear from the survey that many, many Americans need more sexual education; a quarter of respondents (26%) believe using two condoms adds double the STD protection. Even more troubling: 36% think that a condom will protect against all STDs. Meanwhile, one in five respondents report the puzzling belief that they can tell if someone has an STD — just by looking at them! And three in 10 respondents admit that they don’t think getting tested for STDs is necessary unless symptoms are present.

“Better education is needed around STDs and the serious, long-term consequences that may occur if they are left untreated. In the absence of sufficient sex education, people need to work to educate themselves and attend regular sexual health screenings,” Dr. Mordkin adds.

So, how careful are Americans before a new sexual experience? According to the survey, many need to take further steps to protect themselves. Among respondents not in a relationship, 24% say they rarely or never discuss STDs with a new partner before becoming sexually active. When asked why, the top reason given was that STD discussions can be “uncomfortable” (43%), while another 34% say they just don’t want to “ruin the mood.”

A mystifying 48% of respondents don’t even know how often they should be tested, and 19% admitted to never being tested for STDs. Among the 53% of respondents who had been tested within the last year, 23% say they were uncomfortable with the testing process, and slightly more (24%) admit they were worried about what their results may reveal.

However, on the positive side of things, respondents say there a few things that would make them more comfortable with going to get tested. Just over half (55%) say they would appreciate having a medical professional available to help them understand their results, and another 48% would like a doctor available to discuss treatment options. Finally, 52% say they would be more open to being tested if it could take place from the comfort of their own home.

The survey was conducted by OnePoll.

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Ben Renner

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