Sexuality-Related Risks are Judged more Harshly than Comparable Health Risks

Terri D. Conley, Amy C. Moors, Jes L. Matsick, Ali Ziegler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Objectives: In three studies, the authors examined the extent to which STIs and sexual behavior were perceived negatively compared to objectively riskier behaviors. Methods: In Study 1, participants estimated the risk of death as a result of contracting HIV from one instance of unprotected sex (with a noninjection drug user) relative to the risk of death as a result of an automobile accident (a 300 mile drive). In Study 2a, participants read one of two vignettes, in which a target either unknowingly transmitted an STI (chlamydia) or a nonsexual disease (H1N1) to another person through a sexual encounter. In Study 2b, participants read one of 12 vignettes; the type of disease (chlamydia or H1N1), severity of the disease outcome (mild, moderate, or severe), and sex of transmitter (female or male) were manipulated. In Study 3, state-level public health and driving websites were coded for risk-reduction recommendations. Results: In Studies 1 and 2, participants rated the target who transmitted chlamydia more negatively than the target who transmitted H1N1; participants also perceived the target who transmitted chlamydia with a mild severity outcome (the sexual partner took antibiotics for one week) more negatively than the target who transmitted H1N1 with a severe outcome (the sexual partner died from contracting H1N1; Study 2). In Study 3, most state-level public health websites promoted safety through a recommendation that the public abstain from sex; no similar recommendations were provided on driving websites (an objectively riskier behavior). Conclusions: The stigmatization of STIs is beyond the degree of severity (relative to other diseases) and viewed as unjustifiably risky (relative to other risky activities).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)508-521
Number of pages14
JournalInternational Journal of Sexual Health
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Gender Studies
  • Social Psychology
  • Reproductive Medicine
  • Dermatology
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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