Young Women’s Use of a Microbicide Surrogate: The Complex Influence of Relationship Characteristics and Perceived Male Partners’ Evaluations
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Currently in clinical trials, vaginal microbicides are proposed as a female-initiated method of sexually transmitted infection prevention. Much of microbicide acceptability research has been conducted outside of the United States and frequently without consideration of the social interaction between sex partners, ignoring the complex gender and power structures often inherent in young women’s (heterosexual) relationships. Accordingly, the purpose of this study was to build on existing microbicide research by exploring the role of male partners and relationship characteristics on young women’s use of a microbicide surrogate, an inert vaginal moisturizer (VM), in a large city in the United States. Individual semi-structured interviews were conducted with 40 young women (18–23 years old; 85% African American; 47.5% mothers) following use of the VM during coital events for a 4 week period. Overall, the results indicated that relationship dynamics and perceptions of male partners influenced VM evaluation. These two factors suggest that relationship context will need to be considered in the promotion of vaginal microbicides. The findings offer insights into how future acceptability and use of microbicides will be influenced by gendered power dynamics. The results also underscore the importance of incorporating men into microbicide promotion efforts while encouraging a dialogue that focuses attention on power inequities that can exist in heterosexual relationships. Detailed understanding of these issues is essential for successful microbicide acceptability, social marketing, education, and use.
KeywordsMicrobicides Women Relationships Gender HIV STI Qualitative research
The authors would like to thank Megan Patterson, Mallory Metzger, and Erin Triplett for their invaluable assistance to the project. This study was funded by a grant from National Institutes of Health (NIH U19 AI 31494) as well as research awards to the first author: Friends of the Kinsey Institute Research Grant Award, Indiana University’s School of HPER Graduate Student Grant-in-Aid of Research Award, William L. Yarber Sexual Health Fellowship, and the Indiana University Graduate and Professional Student Organization Research Grant.
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