Academic journal article International Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health

Awareness of and Knowledge about STIs among Nonmedical Students in Iran

Academic journal article International Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health

Awareness of and Knowledge about STIs among Nonmedical Students in Iran

Article excerpt

CONTEXT: Evidence on STI knowledge among Iranian nonmedical university students is limited. Information is needed to inform research and policies to improve the sexual health of university students in Iran.

METHODS: A convenience sample of 742 male and female undergraduate and graduate students was recruited from five nonmedical public and private universities in Iran in 2014. Respondents' awareness of and knowledge about STIs were assessed using a validated questionnaire. Chi-square tests, student t tests and one-way analysis of variance were used to compare the percentage of respondents giving correct responses across subgroups of students.

RESULTS: Half of the respondents had ever heard of STIs, but most could not correctly identify STIs in a list of diseases. A total of 49%, 42% and 9% of the respondents had low, moderate and high STI knowledge scores, respectively. Respondents reported online sources (62%) and friends (32%) as their main sources of information about STIs, and those who were older, ever-married or more educated were more knowledgeable than other respondents.

CONCLUSIONS: Given that the Internet was students' main source of information, increasing the accessibility and visibility of credible Internet sites about sexual health is warranted. Also, key individuals in students' networks (e.g., parents, teachers, peers) should be equipped with required training and knowledge on STI-related topics and be actively involved in sexual health education efforts.

International Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, 2017, 43(1): 21-28, https://doi.org/10.1363/43e3217

STIs are a significant and increasing public health concern worldwide. The global number of new cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, trichomoniasis and syphilis in women and men aged 15-49 increased from 333 million cases in 1995 to 357 million in 2012. (1) Declining age at first sexual intercourse and inconsistent condom use have been proposed as possible explanations for the increase in STIs. (2) STIs are synergistic, meaning that acquiring one can increase the likelihood of acquiring others, including HIV. (3) Although most STIs can be cured by timely and effective treatment, many are asymptomatic or go undetected. (4) Untreated cases of some STIs may lead to serious complications, including cervical cancer, ectopic pregnancy, sepsis, inflammation of the epididymis or testis, infertility, and penile or anal cancer. (5,6)

Around one-third of new STIs occur among youth (ages 15-24). (7) Young people are often viewed as being too immature to make the right decisions on important sexual health--related aspects of their lives (e.g., timing their first sexual experience, choosing their sexual partners, obtaining contraceptives). Therefore, parents, caretakers, health care providers and teachers are expected to monitor youths' decisions about sexual and reproductive health. (8) These key adults in youths' lives, however, often adhere to socio-cultural norms about sexuality. (8) These norms and expectations regarding sexuality often create barriers to sexual health promotion efforts and limit young people's access to services. Youth who transgress these norms may experience a high level of stigma, which may lead them to hide their sexual activities and avoid care and treatment for STIs. (8-10)

Given the social, religious and political context of the Middle East and North Africa, discussions about sexuality and STIs can be very challenging. (11,12) Although data on STIs are limited, a growing body of literature points to high rates of STIs across the countries in this region. (7,13,14) In Iran, one of the few countries in the region that have an STI surveillance system that functions relatively well, (15) a study conducted in 2011 suggests that around 57% of people in the general population had symptoms associated with STIs in the previous year, only one-third of whom sought care. (16) Despite the high rates of STIs in Iran, sexual health education remains very limited, (17-19) and studies on STI knowledge in the general population indicate low-to-moderate levels of knowledge. …

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