Objectives To measure the proportion of backpackers engaging in unprotected sex while travelling in Thailand and to identify predictors of unsafe sexual behaviour.
Methods A cross-sectional study using an anonymous questionnaire was performed. English-speaking backpackers, excluding US and Thai citizens, were recruited while travelling through the piers of Koh Tao and Koh Phangan between 25 January and 13 March 2013.
Results 61.5% (1238/2013) respondents were travelling without a long-term sexual partner, of whom 39.1% (29.4% females; 51.9% males) reported intercourse with a new partner. 36.8% of these reported inconsistent/no condom use. Inconsistent condom use was independently associated with age <25 years, UK (vs Canadian) nationality and not bringing condoms from home. Backpackers who brought condoms from home were more likely to have sex with a new partner. Male gender and longer trip length increased the likelihood of new partner acquisition and overall risk of unsafe sex but were not associated with inconsistent condom use. New partners were most commonly backpackers from other countries. Men were more likely than women to have sex with a local person.
Conclusions Backpackers visiting Thailand frequently report unsafe sex. Partner demographics demonstrate a mechanism of international sexually transmitted infection (STI) transfer. In an era of growing antibiotic resistance and continuing HIV transmission, targeting unsafe sex in backpackers has the potential to reduce STI incidence internationally. These data highlight the need for innovative public health intervention. To focus such measures, future research may elucidate why certain groups are at higher risk.
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