Self-reported behavior has been the cornerstone of sexual health research and clinical practice, yet advances in sexually transmitted disease (STD) screening provide researchers with the opportunity to objectively quantify sexual risk behaviors. However, the extent to which young adults' laboratory-confirmed STD results and self-reported sexual behaviors are consistent has not been assessed in a nationally representative sample.
Data are derived from participants who completed wave 3 in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. Young adults (N = 14 012) completed an audio computer-assisted self-interviewing survey and provided a urine specimen to detect the presence of Chlamydia trachomatis and Neisseria gonorrhoeae, and a polymerase chain reaction assay to detect Trichomonas vaginalis.
More than 10% of young adults with a laboratory-confirmed positive STD result reported abstaining from sexual intercourse in the 12 months before assessment and STD testing. After controlling for several sociodemographic factors, self-reported sex (versus those who reported abstinence) in the previous 12 months was significantly associated with testing positive, but the odds of testing positive were only slightly more than twofold (adjusted odds ratio: 2.11 [95% confidence interval: 2.097–2.122]).
Findings indicate discrepancy between young adults' positive STD status and self-reported sexual behavior. No significant correlates of discrepant reporting were identified. From a clinical standpoint, the discrepancies between STD positivity and self-reported sexual behavior observed in this nationally representative sample suggest that routine STD screening may be beneficial and necessary to reduce STD morbidity among young adults.