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Gap Length: An Important Factor in Sexually Transmitted Disease Transmission


Sexually Transmitted Diseases: March 2003 - Volume 30 - Issue 3 - p 221-225

Background Sexually transmitted disease (STD) transmission may occur if the time between dissolution and formation of sex partnerships, the gap, is shorter than mean duration of infectivity of STDs.

Goal The goal was to examine gaps reported by a nationally representative sample of reproductive-age women.

Study Design Data on women's sex partnership dynamics were collected from the 1995 National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG). Gap was defined as the time between first sex with current/most recent partner and last sex with previous partner.

Results One third of women reported negative gaps (concurrent partnerships). Among the women who reported positive gaps (serial monogamy), more than half switched partners in time periods shorter than the mean infectivity periods of some bacterial STDs. Adolescents and women with past STD diagnoses reported shorter gaps than any other group.

Conclusion Given that many STDs are often asymptomatic, short gaps may present a problem if women and their partners are not routinely screened for STDs.

The high proportion of serially monogamous women report gaps-time between sex partnerships-shorter than the mean infectivity periods of some bacterial STDs, thus increasing risk of STD transmission.

From *Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, Illinois; and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, Georgia

The authors thank Charles Akers, PhD, Stuart Berman, MD, Sherilynn Spear, PhD, and Maya Sternberg, PhD, for their helpful comments and suggestions and Patricia Jackson for her outstanding support in the preparation of the manuscript.

Reprint requests: Julie R. Kraut-Becher, PhD, School of Allied Health Professions, DeKalb, Illinois 60115. E-mail:

Received May 14, 2002,

revised August 12, 2002, and accepted August 20, 2002.

© Copyright 2003 American Sexually Transmitted Diseases Association