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Context of Acceptability of Topical Microbicides: Sexual Relationships


  • The research reported in this article was funded by grant RO1 – HD040141 from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. The authors gratefully acknowledge the roles of Peter Leone, M.D., as co-investigator, and Deb Norton, M.D., Gibbie Harris, Peter Morris, M.D., Ida Dawson, and Karen Best in facilitating data collection at Wake County Human Services, and the work of the staff who conducted the focus groups and interviews.

*Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Helen P. Koo, RTI International, 3040 Cornwallis Road, Research Triangle Park, NC, 27709 [e-mail:].


Domains central to the effects of sexual relationships on the acceptability of a vaginal protection method were explored in 14 focus groups and 38 in-depth interviews with women and men recruited from a health department's sexually transmitted infections (STI) and family planning clinics. Findings indicate that acceptability depended on a couple's relationship type, classified as serious, casual, or “new.” Potential barriers to communication about product use may be overcome through direct or indirect covert use, depending on relationship type. More men than women thought women should always tell their partners if they use microbicides, regardless of relationship type. Results indicate the importance of the relationship context in understanding the likely acceptability of using microbicides, and perhaps any method of STI/HIV protection.