Background: Many individuals select sexual partners based on assumed partner STI/HIV safety, yet few studies have investigated how these assumptions are formed. The objective of this research was to determine the extent to which partner safety beliefs were used to evaluate partner safety, and whether these beliefs influenced perceptions of personal STI/HIV risk.
Methods: Participants (n = 317) recruited from an STI clinic completed a structured self-report questionnaire. A Partner Safety Beliefs Scale (PSBS) was developed to determine the factors that most influenced perceived partner safety. Exploratory factor analysis showed that a single factor accounted for 46% of the variance in the PSBS; with an internal consistency of 0.92. Linear regression was used to determine factors predictive of perceived personal STI/HIV risk.
Results: Participants endorsed statements indicating that knowing or trusting a sexual partner influences their beliefs about their partner's safety. Linear regression analysis indicated that education, income, number of sexual partners, and PSBS scores were significant predictors of perceived personal STI/HIV risk.
Conclusions: The results of this study indicate that many individuals are relying on partner attributes and relationship characteristics when assessing the STI/HIV status of a sexual partner, and that this reliance is associated with a decreased perception of personal STI/HIV risk. Prevention campaigns need to acknowledge that people are likely to evaluate sexual partners whom they know and trust as safe. Dispelling erroneous beliefs about the ability to select safe partners is needed to promote safer sexual behavior.