Rural Singles as Sexually Risky as Urbanites, Study Finds

November 30, 2007 - News Release

Contrary to common perceptions, rural singles are just as likely to get involved in risky sexual behaviour that can lead to STD or HIV infections as their urban counterparts are, new research reveals.

Co-authored by a University of Guelph faculty member, the study has found there is little difference between rural and urban singles when it comes to the number of sexual partners, frequency of unprotected sex and testing for STDs or HIV.

This finding debunks the perception that HIV and STDs are just an urban issue, said family relations professor Robin Milhausen, who worked on the study with Bin Huang and Richard Crosby of the University of Kentucky and Bill Yarber of Indiana University.

The study, to be published in Health Education Monograph this winter, is based on national data from the United States but has important implications for Canadians, Milhausen said. About 95 per cent of Canada is considered rural – populations of less than 50,000 – and 30 per cent of Canadians live in remote areas.

"The study suggests there are actually few differences between rural and non-rural individuals in terms of their risk behaviour, so we shouldn't neglect rural areas in Canada when it comes to prevention and education efforts," said Milhausen.

The fact that rural people are at the same risk of getting STDs and HIV is especially worrisome because these communities are not as well equipped as urban areas to deal with and contain an outbreak, she added.

"It's often more difficult to access testing and treatment in rural areas, and there appears to be more of a stigma associated with accessing these resources in small communities."

Data from men and women between the ages of 18 and 29 were analyzed for this study.

The findings showed little difference between rural and non-rural singles in terms of how many sexual partners they'd had over their lifetime. Rural men reported having about seven sex partners, and non-rural men reported having about eight. The women were also similar, with rural women reporting five partners and non-rural women reporting six.

When it came to having unprotected sex, about 46 per cent of both rural and non-rural men reported they didn't use a condom the last time they had sex. For women, the findings showed a slight difference, with 47 per cent of rural and 51 per cent of non-rural reporting not using a condom.

Asked whether they'd had an HIV test, 44 per cent of the men in both groups reported that they had. Among women, there was a marked difference. Fifty per cent of rural women had taken the test, compared with 59 per cent of non-rural women.

Although the study recommends AIDS prevention work be intensified in rural areas to reduce the incidence of HIV from escalating, Milhausen warns that "rural residents may be hesitant to respond to a health issue that has yet to hit home as a reality. People living in rural communities often feel as though they are not vulnerable to HIV or other STDs because these are 'big city' problems. The first task for health educators in rural areas is to get the message out that these infections don't discriminate based on geography. Sex without a condom is risky sex no matter where you live."

Prof. Robin Milhausen
Department of Family Relations and Applied Nutrition
519-824-4120, Ext. 54397

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt, 519-824-4120, Ext. 53338, or Deirdre Healey, Ext. 56982,

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