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The sexual behaviour of British backpackers in Australia
  1. K Hughes1,
  2. J Downing1,
  3. M A Bellis1,
  4. P Dillon2,
  5. J Copeland2
  1. 1
    Centre for Public Health, Liverpool John Moores University, Liverpool, UK
  2. 2
    National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia
  1. Correspondence to Karen Hughes, Centre for Public Health, Liverpool John Moores University, 5th floor Kingsway House, Hatton Garden, Liverpool, L3 2AJ, UK;{at}


Objectives: To explore sexual behaviour and risk-taking among British backpackers in Australia and to investigate the influence of substance use and social settings on sexual behaviour abroad.

Methods: A cross-sectional design was used. The questionnaire gathered information on sexual and substance use behaviour in the 12 months prior to leaving the UK and during backpackers’ stays in Australia. A total of 1008 backpackers, recruited in hostels in Sydney and Cairns, were included in the study.

Results: In total, 73.2% had sex during their stay in Australia, including 68.9% of those who arrived without a partner. Across all backpackers, mean number of sexual partners increased from 0.3 per 4-week period in the UK in the 12 months prior to the trip to 1.0 per 4-week period spent in Australia. Over a third (39.7%) had multiple partners in Australia, increasing to 45.7% in those arriving single. Of those arriving single and having sex, 40.9% reported inconsistent condom use and 24.0% had unprotected sex with multiple partners. Number of sexual partners in the UK, length of stay in Australia at time of interview, planned length of stay, frequent visits to bars/clubs, high frequency of alcohol intake and use of illicit substances in Australia were indicators for risky sexual behaviour.

Conclusions: Backpackers are at high risk of sexually transmitted infections and other negative sexual health outcomes. Multi-agency sexual health promotion strategies that address the relationship between sex, drugs and alcohol should be targeted at backpackers prior to, and during, their travels.

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  • Funding The research was supported by funds from the Higher Education Funding Council for England.

  • Competing interests None.

  • Ethics approval Received from the University of New South Wales Human Ethics Committee and research methods complied with the Helsinki Declaration.

  • Contributors KH designed and developed the study, analysed the data and wrote the manuscript. JD co-wrote the manuscript. MAB designed and developed the study and edited the manuscript. PD developed the study, managed the research and edited the manuscript. JC developed the study and edited the manuscript.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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