According to a new collaborative survey by OnePoll and LetsGetChecked, an at-home health screening and testing service, a third of Americans incorrectly believe STIs can be transmitted via a public toilet seat. And, well, that’s just not true! [Editors’ note: While this study uses the term STD, O.school is using the term STI in this article because it more accurately describes infections passed via sexual contact.]
The survey, conducted in honor of last month’s September’s Sexual Health Awareness Month, quizzed 2,000 sexually active Americans on their sexual health knowledge and revealed some concerning statistics — especially because 81 percent of respondents considered themselves to be knowledgeable about sexual health.
According to the New York Post, not only did a shocking amount of Americans believe STIs can be caught from a toilet seat, but 22 percent believed that they could catch an STI from fortuitous (non-genital/non-oral) physical contact with an infected person, meaning many believed a simple touch on the arm could spread a virus. And 24 percent of Americans thought that sharing a glass of water with an STI-positive person could cause an infection to spread.
“There are many different types of sexually transmitted infections, but don’t count on them being transmitted through the back of your legs or rear touching a public toilet seat,” relationship and sexuality educator Dr. Logan Levkoff tells O.school.
So, if not from contact with a public toilet seat, how does the spread of STIs occur?
“STIs are spread from fluid transmission through mucous membranes or shedding viral cells,” Dr. Levkoff says. As noted by YoungWomensHealth.org bodily fluids like blood, vaginal fluids, and semen all have the potential to carry infection through mucous membranes via vagina, oral, and anal sex. However, stray urine on a public toilet seat will not put you at risk of contracting an STI.
“And even if (and that’s a big IF) bodily fluids were on the seat, infection agents wouldn’t live long [outside the body],” Dr. Levkoff adds, “and you’d have to [have] some cut or sore on the backs of your thighs making contact at that exact time for it to happen.”
Why, then, do so many people believe STIs can be spread by skin-to-skin contact, or more specifically, skin-to-toilet seat contact? Unfortunately, LetsGetChecked and OnePoll found that lack of proper sexual education in schools is most likely to blame.
Only 52 percent of survey participants said they remember taking a sex-ed course in grade school, and of those participants, 53 percent said that they were taught an abstinence-only lesson plan. These types of programs rarely prevent young people from having sex, as researchers reported in a 2017 issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health, per NPR. Studies have shown that abstinence-only programs do not succeed in reducing rates of teen pregnancy and STIs, mostly likely due to the fact that these programs often withhold information about having safe sex as well as pregnancy and STI prevention, and only advocate for no intercourse until marriage.
This poor sexual education epidemic in America also resulted in 26 percent of polled Americans believing that doubling up on condoms (wearing two condoms at once) doubled protection against contracting STIs (mind you, it definitely doesn’t. The friction of two condoms will more likely cause them to break). And 36 percent of respondents incorrectly believed that condoms protect against all STIs. Furthermore, less than half of survey participants were able to correctly identify herpes or chlamydia symptoms.
“Better education is needed around STDs [STIs] and the serious, long-term consequences that may occur if they are left untreated,” Chief Medical Officer of LetsGetChecked, Dr. Robert Mordkin told the Post. “In the absence of sufficient sex education, people need to work to educate themselves and attend regular sexual health screenings.”