Something to Talk About: Sexual Risk Communication Between Young Women and Their Partners

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Abstract

Objectives:

To describe sexual risk communication between young women and their male sexual partners and examine its impact on women's perceptions of sexual risk.

Design:

The study and results reported were part of a larger descriptive, retrospective study in which data were collected from young women and their male partners via telephone interviews.

Participants:

Participants included 93 unmarried, sexually active heterosexual women, ages 17 to 26 years, and 82 of their male sexual partners. The sample was predominantly white; all other ethnic groups were underrepresented.

Results:

Nearly all of the women described their partners as "no risk" or "low risk," despite the fact that nearly half never discussed their partner's sexual risk histories. Women gave three primary reasons why sexual risk was not discussed: (a) did not know the partner well enough/too embarrassed to ask; (b) "knew" the partner was low risk/no need to discuss it; and (c) did not think of it.

Conclusions:

Nurses should adopt and promote the premise that all sexually active women are at some risk for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), including human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Furthermore, sexually active women should be advised to distinguish between what they think they know about their partners and what they actually know. As client advocates, nurses should empower women to recognize that they have the right to insist on full sexual history disclosure and STD/HIV testing, to question whether they want to have sexual relations, and to refuse to engage in sexual activity if they wish.

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