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Sex Transm Infect. 2001 Oct;77(5):335-9.

Choosing and using services for sexual health: a qualitative study of women's views.

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  • 1Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University of Leicester, Leicester LE1 6TP, UK. md11@le.ac.uk



To explore women's accounts of choosing and using specialist services for sexual health.


A qualitative study involving semistructured interviews with 37 women screened for Chlamydia trachomatis attending genitourinary medicine and family planning clinics in an East Midlands health authority.


In making the decision to seek help, women act on a range of specific prompts, including lay ideas about the significance of symptoms; their own behaviour; their partner's symptoms or behaviour; contact tracing; and health promotion. Some women do not seek help specifically in relation to sexual health but are identified as being at risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) during routine consultations. Important influences on women's choice of services include the lay referral system, "insider" knowledge of health services, referral by health professionals, and need to have alternatives to general practice care. Women's willingness to access services is mediated by psychosocial factors such as embarrassment. They may use smear tests as a legitimate opportunity to raise questions about sexual health. Women's priorities for services are that their feelings of stigma and embarrassment are managed appropriately; that staff communicate well and are sensitive to their emotions and comfort during tests and procedures; that they are "in control" when obtaining test results; and that confidentiality is preserved.


A detailed understanding of both lay people's response to symptoms or behaviour that indicates risk of an STI and their needs when using services should inform interventions aimed at encouraging secondary prevention of STIs.

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