Racial/ethnic differences in young women’s STI prevention strategies

A new study finds that over 90 percent of young women report using at least one strategy to protect themselves from acquiring sexually transmitted infections (STIs). However, the types of strategies used by young women differ along racial/ethnic lines. Furthermore, the extent to which young women receive counseling from healthcare providers regarding STI prevention also differs by race/ethnicity.

Health education with patient

Credit: Cindy Chew

While condom use was common among all young women in the study, other strategies—such as asking partners about their STI status or self-testing—were far more common among young white women compared to their non-white peers.

Differences in individuals' use of STI prevention strategies may be one contributor—in addition to far more systemic issues, such as unequal access to care—to the significant racial/ethnic disparities in STIs in the US. One way to close that gap is for providers to do more to help young women of color identify effective prevention strategies that meet their unique needs and preferences. Unfortunately, this study also shows that providers have a lot of work to do in that area.

Young white women were nearly three times more likely than their peers of color to report their provider discussed condoms with them. Young women of color were also more likely to report feeling very uncomfortable discussing most STI prevention strategies with their providers. The good news is that just as young women can protect themselves against STIs, providers can also use proven strategies, such as shared decision-making, to protect against their own biases and provide better sexual health counseling to all young women.