Singaporeans on sex: clueless or innumerate?

A new survey indicates that young Singaporeans are pretty clueless about HIV prevention. Or perhaps it indicates that Singaporeans can’t count.

According to The Straits Times, the state’s Health Promotion Board asked close to 1,800 Singaporeans how HIV could be prevented. Apparently, almost half of them didn’t know that consistent condom use prevents HIV infection.

We’ll have to take the paper’s word for it, because the survey is not mentioned on the Health Promotion Board’s website. But I’m reluctant to do that, because the paper also gives us this nice graphic:

Does this make you at all suspicious? Leave aside that there’s no mention of drug injection; the numbers don’t add up even for methods of preventing sexual transmission. Over 82% mention being faithful to one partner, hoping, presumably that the partner in question stays faithful too. Next in the ABC list comes abstinence, at 75%. So how is it possible that 80% know at least two of the three ways that Singapore promotes as ways to prevent HIV?

I guess I’m trying to find fault with the study in part because I don’t want to believe that Singaporeans, by far the most educated population in Southeast Asia, can possibly be this clueless. Probably not a comment I should make a few days before I visit the country, but really…

Thanks to David Fox for the pointer.

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This post was published on 18/10/08 in Science.

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  1. Comment by Ian, 20/10/08, 12:30:

    Blame the journalist not the Health Promotion board (or Singaporeans). The “nice graphic” tells a fuller story of the 1768 responses – clearly the questionnaire allowed multiple responses, and 45.6% didn’t mention consistent condom use. Perhaps blame the questionnaire setter too…..

  2. Comment by Daniel Reeders, 23/10/08, 05:13:

    Why do you believe that education means ‘not clueless about HIV’?

  3. Comment by Ted, 24/10/08, 04:48:

    Elizabeth, if the people who know about abstention and faithfulness are different than the people who know about condom-usage and faithfulness, there’s nothing inconsistent or innumerate about 80% knowing at least two of the three ways, even if no two ways reach 80%. The numbers add up so long as there exist respondents who don’t know any of the ways.

    Here’s an obvious example, a five-person survey.

    Person A knows methods 1 and 2.
    Person B knows methods 1 and 3.
    Person C knows methods 2 and 3.
    Person D knows methods 1, 2, and 3.
    Person E knows none of the methods.

    Only 60% of the people know method 1. The same for method 2 or method 3. But 80% of the people know at least 2 methods.

  4. Comment by Snout, 25/10/08, 12:21:

    “So how is it possible that 80% know at least two of the three ways that Singapore promotes as ways to prevent HIV?”

    I don’t see the problem. Let’s say that of the 80%, all of them picked “one unifected partner” as their first way, and most of them picked “abstaining from casual sex” as their second. Those who didn’t pick abstaining, chose condoms as option number two.

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