NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Too many people may consider themselves at low risk of sexually transmitted diseases simply because they trust their partner, a new study suggests.
The study of patients at an STD clinic found that many people relied on subjective measures in judging their partner's "safety" -- such as how long they had known the partner or how intelligent or well-educated he or she was.
The findings suggest that when people feel they "just know" their partner, they may consider their STD risk to be low even in the absence of any STD/HIV testing, the researchers report in the journal Sexually Transmitted Diseases.
For the study, Cindy Masaro and colleagues at the University of British Columbia gave questionnaires to 317 men and women attending an STD clinic. All were visiting the clinic for the first time for an assessment and not yet been diagnosed with any STD.
The questionnaire asked patients whether they would be "pretty sure" that a sex partner was "safe" in various situations -- such as when they knew the person well, knew his or her friends, or simply felt they could trust the person.
The researchers found that people often took such subjective qualities as a sign that their partner would put them at low STD risk. For example, more than 70 percent of patients said they would probably consider a partner "safe" if he or she were generally trustworthy.
However, people's perceptions of their partners do not necessarily match reality.
Past studies, Masaro and her colleagues point out, have found that while many people are "confident in their assessments of their partner's character," their knowledge of the partner's STD risk factors is often off the mark.
"Developing interventions that target assumptions of safety and dispel incorrect beliefs about the selection of safe partners is needed to promote safer sexual behavior," the researchers conclude.
SOURCE: Sexually Transmitted Diseases, June 2008.