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U.S. populace deemed 'sexually illiterate'.

U.S. populace deemed 'sexually illiterate'

The first large-scale survey of U.S. sexual knowledge indicates that American adults remain remarkably ignorant about contraception, venereal disease and what generally goes on behind the nation's bedroom doors. In an era increasingly fraught with teenage prenancies and sexually transmitted diseases, including AIDS, these findings bode ill for the nationhs health, says June Reinisch, chief author of the report. Reinisch directs the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction in Bloomington, Ind., which conducted the survey with the Roper Organization, a national polling concern.

Numerous studies in the past five decades, including some by the Kinsey Institute, have produced attention-grabbing surveys of U.S. sexual behavior. The new study, now being prepared for publication in a scientific journal but released in book form last week, differs from previous polls by looking not at what people do but at what they know.

"It's very important to know what people know," Reinisch says, so that sex educators can design programs that specifically address the public's most glaring knowledge gaps. According to her report, some of those gaps resemble chasms. Indeed, Reinisch maintains, the poll shows that the United States is a country of "sexual illiterates," with a body politic dangerously burdened with carnal misinformation.

During October 1989, pollsters asked people aged 18 or older to answer the 18 questions most commonly asked of the Kinsey Institute by the general public. Fewer than one-fifth of the 1,974 respondents answered 12 or more questions correctly, and only four -- all of them women -- got 16 or more right.

Among the more striking misconcepttions, about half of Americans apparently believe people can acquire AIDS from anal intercourse even if neither partner harbors the virus that causes the disease. Although that notion might lead people to err on the side of caution by avoiding anal intercourse altogether, other mistaken beliefs uncovered by the survey clearly add to the risk of spreading AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, Reinisch says.

For example, most women underestimated the percentage of men who have had a sexual experience with another man (about one-quarter to one-third of them have, Reinisch says). This could lead women to underestimate the odds that a sexual partner carries the AIDS virus. And half of the respondents didn't know that oil-based creams and jellies such as baby oil, petroleum jelly and some hand lotions can punch microscopic holes in latex condoms and diaphragms, allowing rapid penetration of viruses and sperm.

Although the Northeast and South scored worse overall than any other parts of the nation (the Midwest consistently scored best), these regions scored the highest on AIDS-related questions. Reinisch says this hints at the success of federally sponsored AIDS-educaiton programs, which have focused on the Northeast and South because these areas contain eight of the nation's 11 most AIDS-afflicted cities. With a U.S. teenager acquiring a new sexually transmitted disease every 13 seconds, and with a new teenage pregnancy occurring every 30 seconds, it becomes critical to broaden education programs to include more generally relevant sex-related topics, she says.

Even the elderly need to get better informed about sex, Reinisch adds, noting that they represent a growing population that can influence sex-educaiton policies through their votes. She sugests that a lack of voter pressure contributes to Congress' continued unwillingness to fund a national survey of sexual behavior (SN:7/8/89, p.28). Such a survey, Reinisch argues, would immensely aid public health officials in predicting the spread of the AIDS virus and in planning strategies against this and other sexually transmitted infections.
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Author:Weiss, R.
Publication:Science News
Date:Sep 15, 1990
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