Context: Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) of bacterial origin such as gonorrhea and chlamydial infection can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) and infertility. Identifying behaviors and characteristics associated with infection may assist in preventing these often asymptomatic diseases and their sequelae.
Methods: Data from 9,882 sexually active women who participated in the 1995 National Survey of Family Growth describe the characteristics of women who report a history of infection with a bacterial STD or of treatment for PID. Multivariate analysis is used to determine which demographic characteristics and sexual and health-related behaviors affect the likelihood of infection or the occurrence of complications.
Results: Overall, 6% of sexually active women reported a history of a bacterial STD, and 8% reported a history of PID. Women who first had sexual intercourse before age 15 were nearly four times as likely to report a bacterial STD, and more than twice as likely to report PID, as were women who first had sex after age 18. Having more than five lifetime sexual partners also was associated with both having an STD and having PID. PID was more common among women reporting a history of a bacterial STD (23%) than among women who reported no such history (7%). In multivariate analyses, age, race, age at first intercourse and lifetime number of sexual partners had a significant effect on the risk of a bacterial STD. Education, age, a history of IUD use, douching and a history of a bacterial STD had a significant impact on the risk of PID, but early onset of intercourse did not, and lifetime number of partners had only a marginal effect.
Conclusions: The pattern of characteristics and behaviors that place women at risk of infection with bacterial STDs is not uniform among groups of women. Further, the level of self-reported PID would suggest higher rates of gonorrhea and chlamydial infection than reported.