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Perceptions of Sexual Partner Safety

Masaro, C L. RN, MSN*; Dahinten, V S. RN, MBA, PhD; Johnson, J RN, PhD; Ogilvie, G MHSc, MD§∥; Patrick, D M. MHSc, MD¶#

Sexually Transmitted Diseases: June 2008 - Volume 35 - Issue 6 - p 566-571
doi: 10.1097/OLQ.0b013e3181660c43

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.

A study of STI clinic clients found that individuals use partner attributes and relationship characteristics (familiarity, trust, and assumed sexual history) to evaluate the STI/HIV safety of their sexual partners.

From the *Division of Epidemiology Services, University of British Columbia (UBC) Centre for Disease Control; †School of Nursing, UBC; ‡Graduate Programs and Research, School of Nursing, UBC; §STD/AIDS Control, BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC); ∥Department of Family Practice, UBC; ¶Epidemiology Services, BCCDC; and #Department of Health Care and Epidemiology, UBC, British Columbia, Canada

Supported by UBC School of Nursing—(Katherine McMillian Director's Discretionary Fund Research Bursary), UBC Centre for Disease Control, and Nexus Research Unit.

Correspondence: Cindy Masaro, RN, MSN, 655 West 12th Avenue, Vancouver, BC V5Z 4R4, Canada. E-mail:

Received for publication September 16, 2007, and accepted December 20, 2007.

© Copyright 2008 American Sexually Transmitted Diseases Association