Rationale: To explore age of onset of rectal douching among men who have sex with men (MSM) and reasons leading to and maintaining douching behavior; and to consider whether rectal douches containing microbicidal agents might be acceptable for men at HIV risk.
Methods: In stage 1, we used qualitative methods to explore douching behavior in a sample of 20 MSM. Subsequently, we developed a structured questionnaire that was administered in stage 2 to 105 MSM.
Results: More than half of participants who completed stage 1 douched during the trial despite having been advised not to do so. Of the 105 human immunodeficiency virus uninfected participants in stage 2, 51% reported using rectal douches in the prior 6 months; 47% douched before and 25% after anal intercourse. Most participants reported douching frequently or always. On average, men reported douching about 2 hours before or 1 hour following intercourse. Average age of onset was late 20s. Most men who douched wanted to be clean or were encouraged to douche by their partners. Some men thought douching after sex could prevent sexually transmitted infections.
Conclusion: Rectal douching appears to be a popular behavior among men who have receptive anal intercourse. It is necessary to identify harmless douches. If human immunodeficiency virus or sexually transmitted infections preventive douches can be developed, rectal douching before or following sexual intercourse could become an important additional prevention tool. To reshape an existing behavior to which some men strongly adhere, like douching, by suggesting use of 1 type of douche over another may be more successful than trying to convince MSM to engage in behaviors they never practiced before or those they resist (e.g., condom use).