Background: Identification of people who most frequently engage in sexual risk behaviour while travelling abroad would be useful for the design and targeting of health education and promotion campaigns.
Methods: Eligible participants were people living in the UK aged 18-34 years who had travelled abroad without a partner in the previous 2 years. Respondents were first screened for eligibility as part of representative face-to-face and telephone surveys by a market research company. Eligible individuals who agreed to take part then underwent a computer-assisted telephone interview. Reinterviewing continued until 400 eligible people had been contacted. We also interviewed a control group of 568 young people who had travelled abroad without a partner in the previous 2 years but who did not report a new sexual relationship during their travels.
Findings: One in ten of the eligible participants reported sexual intercourse with a new partner. Travellers who reported a new sexual relationship abroad were also likely to report large numbers of sexual partners at home. Of the 400 people who had a new sexual partner abroad, 300 (75%) used condoms on all occasions with the new partner. Logistic regression modelling showed differences between men and women in those factors linked to the practice of unsafe or safer sex while travelling. For men, patterns of condom use abroad with casual partners (p<.0001) reflected patterns of use at home (p<0.001), whereas for women, patterns of condom use varied according to their partners' backgrounds (p<.0001).
Interpretation: Condoms are widely used among young travellers, but patterns of use vary by sex. Campaigns about sexual health targeted at international travellers should continue, not least because young people who meet new sexual partners abroad may be a convenient proxy group for that minority of the population who report most sexual partners at home. Such campaigns should be designed differently for men and women.