Background: Drug-using women remain at high risk for HIV infection. Female condoms (FC) have proven potential and cervical barriers have promise to reduce HIV risk; their effective use may be boosted by familiarity and confidence about female anatomy. Women with high levels of crack cocaine use were assessed for their knowledge about reproductive anatomy, HIV/STI risk, as well as cancer screening behaviors.
Methods: Women were recruited for a randomized trial of a behavioral intervention via mobile vans in Philadelphia known for high crack use and sex exchange. Knowledge and behavioral data on 198 women were collected via interviewer-administered questionnaire. Women were randomized into control (n=99) and intervention (n=99) arms. Five weekly, small-group, intervention sessions stressed "body empowerment" and teaching use of female-initiated barrier methods. Follow-up body knowledge data were collected at 12 months. Changes in and correlates of body knowledge were analyzed and compared.
Results: Most participants were African-American (66%); their mean age was 39.6 years. At baseline, 44% of the sample erroneously believed women have sex and urinate from the same place; 62% erroneously believed that tampons could get lost in the abdominal cavity. Only 27% knew douching increased STI transmission risk; only 10% knew condoms reduce cervical cancer risk. At follow-up, overall body knowledge improved substantially, across both arms. Race was associated with high body knowledge at baseline but not at follow-up.
Conclusions: Knowledge favoring use of women-initiated methods and cervical cancer prevention was very low in this hard-to-reach sample. Body knowledge improved substantially with enhanced voluntary counseling and testing (VCT) as well as the women-focused intervention. Body knowledge education must be targeted and tailored to drug-using women.