When it comes to the subject of STDs and unprotected anal sex, gay men are often the target of the conversation. But new research by the New York Department of Health and Mental Hygiene suggests that straight people could learn a thing or two about protection from gay men.

More than 100,000 women in NYC have anal sex each year. And unprotected anal sex, according to data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, can be far more dangerous than other sexual activities. The probability of getting HIV for a receptive partner engaging in sex with someone with HIV is about five times higher for anal sex than vaginal sex.

Yet, only 23 percent of women use condoms during anal sex, compared to 61 percent of gay men. Meanwhile, only 35 percent of women who engaged in unprotected anal sex got tested for HIV, compared to 63 percent of women who use a condom during anal sex. Clearly, many women are not understanding how important it is to use condoms and get tested.

The disappointing lack of education surrounding safe sexual practices involving anal sex is unsurprising. Sex education often focuses on pregnancy and STD transmission through vaginal intercourse, ignoring risks associated with anal sex. Heterosexuals, perhaps unaware of the dangers of unprotected anal sex, consider it a safer alternative since it can’t result in pregnancy.

While sex education largely ignores anal sex, it is becoming increasingly popular among heterosexuals. Which means it might be time for sex-ed programs to change and provide adequate education so people can be aware of the risks they take, and engage in sex safely.

Photo credit: victoriapeckham