More people are claiming that they are afraid of dying from sexually transmitted infections more than from other possible health risks such as vehicular accidents, a new study says.

Researchers from the University of Michigan (UM) have discovered that people tend to perceive risky sexual behavior and the potential diseases that go along with it more negatively compared to other health hazards.

In a study featured in the International Journal of Sexual Health, UM psychology professor Terri D. Conley and her colleagues found that the stigmatization of STIs has caused many individuals to become excessively afraid of engaging in unprotected sexual intercourse.

According to the findings, participants believe there is a 7.1 percent likelihood that they may die from having one unprotected intercourse compared to a 0.4 percent probability that they may meet their end through a vehicular accident during a 300-mile road trip, or around 17 times as high a chance of occurring.

Conley and her team also carried out three individual studies to find out the extent to which sexual behavior and sexually transmitted infections were harshly viewed by the participants compared to other behaviors that were considered riskier.

The UM researchers first conducted a study that determined the likelihood of death after contracting human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) from engaging in one unprotected sexual intercourse compared to the likelihood of death as a direct result of a vehicular accident such as a 300-mile journey.

They then followed it up with a study wherein the participants were asked to read one of two scenarios. The first vignette described an individual who unwittingly transmitted a sexually transmitted infection (chlamydia) to another person, while the second one showed the individual transmitting a nonsexual illness (H1N1) to another person.

The third study involved asking the participants to read one of 12 different vignettes that featured the disease type (H1N1 or chlamydia), how severe the outcome of the disease is (mild, moderate, or severe), and the transmitter's gender was manipulated (male or female).

The research team made use of recommendations from driving and public health websites regarding risk reduction for the third study.

At the end of all three studies, Conley and her colleagues concluded that the public's stigmatization of sexually transmitted infections has caused these illnesses to be perceived at a higher degree of severity compared to other forms of diseases.

This in turn has resulted in many people viewing STIs as considerably more life-threatening than other risky undertakings such as driving.

Photo: Pedro Ribeiro Simões | Flickr 

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