Maxine's Journal

Adventures of the Polka-Dotted One

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Legal Prostitutes Have HALF the Infection Rate of 'Straight' Population
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I have just been reminded by a post of Joreth's, that this tab has been open in my browser for a couple of weeks now: Reuters article on incidence of STIs in prostitutes, swingers and 'straight' population.

Possibly the most poorly titled piece of science journalism EVER.

Take a look at the statistics quoted in the article: "Overall, combined rates of Chlamydia and gonorrhea were just over 10 percent among straight people, 14 percent among gay men, just under 5 percent in female prostitutes, and 10.4 percent among swingers, they found. And female swingers had higher infection rates than male swingers."

What Reuters managed to read from that: Shock, horror! Swingers have TWICE the infection rate of prostitutes!

With a more sex-positive eye, however, let's re-read that. Swingers overall had an infection rate of 10.4% over the period of the study. that's just 0.4% more than 'straight' (I assume this means heterosexual, serially monogamous - it's never actually defined in the article) people. So the straight folk and swingers had very similar infection rates, which were both DOUBLE the infection rate of the prostitutes.

What does this tell us?

First it tells us that Reuters journalists are so biased against sex-positive folk that they have to ignore an amazing statistic to twist their headline into something with enough shock value to please their readers.

Second, it tells us that monogamous people don't have all the answers on safety... who would have thought?

joreth hits the nail on the head: "The number of sexual partners is not the most important factor in a person's health risk profile. Using proper safety procedures, and exchanging accurate medical information between partners and with medical practitioners are more likely to keep you safe than just reducing the number of partners."

The take-home piece of information from this study is NOT that being a swinger is inherently unsafe, but that being 'straight' does not keep you safe.

Clearly the prostitutes in this study, working in a legal profession (bless the Netherlands for being open-minded enough for that) by being aware of risk and observing safer sex methods managed to reduce their risk to a level far below the general population. What might they be doing to reduce their risk? Getting checked regularly and using barrier protection are the most obvious. Being aware of how, for example, different lubricants can alter your risk of infection is another. Another less obvious one is this: not automatically assuming that your partner is clear of infection.

Assuming that your partner is clear of infection because they have slept only with one person at a time is a mistake made by so many of the straight, monogamous community – I mean come on guys, you're in the majority (for now). If it actually kept you safe, these diseases wouldn't exist! You don't have to assume that your partner is cheating on you for them (and you) to be at risk of having an STI – they may well have contracted something before you met. Sexual health clinics in the UK generally won't offer certification, but are you certain that every one of your partners had the all-clear before you played together? If you're monogamous and haven't done testing, are you certain that your partners exes had the all-clear before THEY slept together? Or if not, what precautions did/do you take? Crossing your fingers, closing your eyes and singing 'la la la' is not a precaution, by the way. Nor is a wedding ring.

Out of interest, I've visited one swing club in the netherlands, and would go so far as to hazard a guess that the reason why the infection rate was so similar between 'straight' folk and swingers would be because generally the swingers are using barrier methods with randoms they play with at clubs, but where it comes to their usual partner, make pretty much the same assumptions about safety that the general 'straight' population do – “well he/she uses barriers with everyone else, so we don't need to get tested”.

I'd love to see a study like this comparing mono and poly folk. My hunch is that the poly community in general has a % that's even lower, since there is a high level of safety-consciousness combined with a relatively small number of partners, at least as compared to Dutch prostitutes.

Now there's a line I never thought I'd use!

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I'd like to see a study comparing infection rates between Netherlands prostitutes and prostitutes elsewhere. I think there's one of the States which has it legalised.

Yes, that's Nevada and testing is mandatory for legal prostitutes there.

There's a further problem with the Reuter's headline which (a) shows their statistical ignorance and (b) probably shows I've been refereeing too many statistical analyses lately...

The article refers to a study involving 9000 consultations. If you're going to try to count things to an accuracy of 1%, ie. 1 in 100, Poisson statistics tell you that you need to count 100^2 of them, ie. 10000. That's assuming no other sources of error which in a study like this are very likely.

This means that statistically there is *no difference at all* in the infection rates of swingers and straight folk. That 0.4% difference is so small as to be meaningless.

Odd, I thought I responded to this. Thanks for adding the extra weight to that part of the argument!

I've not seen a response until now.

Glad to add weight and hopefully spread a bit of statistical goodness :-)

One quick word of advice: save your sanity -- don't read the comments on that article. Gah.

Note that your lubricant article link isn't working.

Ah, thanks for that. Edited and should be working now.

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Re: Catching up again...

Cheers hun, and yes absolutely point anyone you like at this. I keep as many of my posts public as possible, because my goal is to open minds and educate more than to have a personal journal here.

We can also than werenerd for having pointing me at the Reuters article in the first place. :)

(P.S. You're an icon fiend: how totally appropriate was the one I used up there?! :D )

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Re: Catching up again...

I'm glad she pointed me here! I'm totally on the same page with you, although I actually decided not to blog about the study because (if I remember correctly) I found the methodology kind of wonky. I did, however, enjoy screaming at the Reuters writer for hir Crazy Reinterpretation Skillz.

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