Background: Education is used to promote sexual health but the extent to which knowledge affects attitudes and behaviour is unclear.
Objectives: To determine whether medical education positively affects students’ sexual knowledge, attitudes and behaviour concerning STDs.
Methods: A comparative survey was administered to third year medical and non-medical students attending the University of Birmingham. The questionnaire was voluntary, anonymous and self-administered. It recorded demographic information, sexual health knowledge, sexual health behaviours and attitudes. Group differences were analysed by Chi squared, one-way analysis of variance between groups (ANOVA) or t-tests. Relationships between variables were examined with Pearson correlation coefficients.
Results: 180 respondents were sampled: 52 .8% medical students, 47.2% non-medical students . There was a statistically significant difference in knowledge found between medical (M=36.15) and non-medical students (M=32.41); p=0.00. A small significant positive correlation between knowledge of STDs and sexual attitudes was found only in non-medical students (r=0.218, p=0.04). Female non-medical students performed better than their males in knowledge (Male M=31.04, Female M=34.03 , p= 0.001) and attitudes (Male M= 28.59, Female M=31.45, p=0.001). Whereas female medical students, only outperformed males in attitudes (Male M=28.97, Female M=31.20 p=0.005).
Conclusions: Whilst medical students have more knowledge, their sexual attitudes and behaviours are no better than their non-medical colleagues. The only correlation between knowledge and attitudes was found in non-medical students, implying that there is a limit to the effect of knowledge on behaviour. This highlights that socio-demographic variables, personal experience and individual culture may have a crucial role in determining sexual attitudes and behaviours. Women have healthier sexual attitudes, which may be due to gender socialisation.
Implications for Programs, Policy, and/or Research: More focus on values, perceptions and motivations must be considered within sexual health programmes.