Background: The effectiveness of counseling messages to avoid unprotected sex during short-term treatment for curable sexually transmitted infections is unknown.
Methods: We randomized 300 female STI clinic patients 18 years or older with cervicitis and/or vaginal discharge in Kingston, Jamaica, in 2010 to 2011, to 1 of 2 counseling messages for their course of syndromic treatment: abstinence only or abstinence backed up by condom use. At a follow-up visit 6 days afterward, we collected vaginal swabs to test for prostate-specific antigen (PSA), a biological marker of recent semen exposure, and administered a questionnaire assessing sexual behavior.
Results: No differences were found in the proportions of women testing positive for PSA at follow-up in the abstinence-plus-condom group (11.9%) and abstinence-only group (8.4%) (risk difference, 3.5; 95% confidence interval, -3.5 to 10.5). There also was no significant difference in reporting of unprotected sex between groups. Reporting a history of condom use before enrollment significantly modified the effect of counseling arm on PSA positivity (P = 0.03). Among those reporting recent condom use, 10.3% in the abstinence-only arm and 4.8% in the abstinence-plus-condom arm tested positive for PSA. Conversely, among those not reporting recent condom use, 6.5% in the abstinence-only arm and 17.3% in the abstinence-plus-condom arm had PSA detected.
Conclusions: We found no evidence to support the superiority of either counseling message. Post hoc analyses suggest that women with recent condom experience may benefit significantly more from abstinence-plus-condom messages, whereas women without such experience may benefit significantly more from abstinence-only messages. Providers should weigh individual condom use history when determining the most appropriate counseling message.