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Men’s Sexual Experiences with the Dapivirine Vaginal Ring in Malawi, South Africa, Uganda and Zimbabwe

Abstract

The dapivirine vaginal ring has been well-tolerated and shown to prevent HIV in clinical trials. The ring is female initiated, yet endorsement for use is sought from male partners in many relationships. In clinical studies, participants have expressed worries about men detecting rings during vaginal sex, which introduces concerns about product use disclosure, sexual pleasure, penile harm, inter-partner dynamics, and ring removals. This study reports African men’s firsthand sexual experiences with the ring. Qualitative data were captured through 11 focus group discussions and one in-depth interview with 54 male partners of ring-users at six research sites in Malawi, South Africa, Uganda and Zimbabwe. Following a semi-structured guide, and using demonstration rings, vulva and penis models, men were asked to discuss the ring’s impact on sex and views on male engagement and ring use. Interviews were facilitated by local male social scientists, audio-recorded, translated into English, and analyzed thematically. 22 (41%) of the male partners reported feeling the ring during sex, often attributed to perceived incorrect insertion. Many men described the ring as “scratching” the tip of their penises, and sensations of “prodding” something that “blocked” the vagina and prohibited “full entry”. In most cases, feelings dissipated with time or when sexual fluids increased. Less common descriptions included perceiving the vaginal texture, wetness and size as different, which increased pleasure for some, and decreased for others. Over half (59%) never noticed the ring; some attempting and failing to feel it during intercourse. A majority of men reported that the ring did not lead to changes in sexual positions, feelings, frequency or experience of sex, although some were initially afraid that the ring was a “magic snake” or “potion”. Male partners expressed strong opinions that ring use was a shared prevention responsibility that men should be engaged in, especially for maintaining trust and open communication in relationships. The ring was noticed by many male partners, particularly during women’s initial stages of ring use, although this led to few sexual problems or changes. Nevertheless, results suggest that risk of ring discovery should be discussed with women to mitigate any potential negative reactions or social harm. Strategies to increase male partner engagement will enhance support of this prevention method for women.

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Funding

The study was designed and implemented by the Microbicide Trials Network (MTN) funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases through individual grants (UM1AI068633, UM1AI068615 and UM1AI106707), with co-funding from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and the National Institute of Mental Health, all components of the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH). The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the NIH.

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Correspondence to Elizabeth T. Montgomery.

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There are no potential conflicts of interest (financial or non-financial) by any of the authors in regards to this manuscript. The research involved human subjects and no animal subjects. All researchers who collected data from humans were trained in the principles of Human Subjects. A written informed consent process, approved by local ethical review committees in all research settings, was undertaken with participants prior to any research procedures.

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Montgomery, E.T., Katz, A.W.K., Duby, Z. et al. Men’s Sexual Experiences with the Dapivirine Vaginal Ring in Malawi, South Africa, Uganda and Zimbabwe. AIDS Behav 25, 1890–1900 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10461-020-03119-2

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Keywords

  • Vaginal ring
  • Male partners
  • HIV prevention
  • Qualitative
  • Sexual experiences
  • Africa