International travel is common and may influence women's sexual and reproductive health through myriad pathways. Existing studies focus on travelers’ risk of acquiring STDs, but not their pregnancy prevention behaviors. Further, it is unclear whether sexual and reproductive health outcomes observed for female travelers are associated with travel itself, because few studies compare travelers with nontravelers.
An online survey was conducted in 2016–2017 among females attending a U.S. university who reported a history of sex with men; the sample comprised 340 students who had traveled internationally in the past three months (travelers) and 170 who intended to travel in the next three months (pretravelers). Multivariable modified Poisson regression models assessed associations between travel status and two outcomes during travelers’ recent trip or a period of similar duration for pretravelers: contraceptive lapse (incorrect or inconsistent use of any method) and new sexual partnership.
Travelers and pretravelers reported similar levels of contraceptive lapse (29% and 32%, respectively) and new sexual partnerships (17% and 12%). Multivariable analysis confirmed that travelers were no more likely than pretravelers to have contraceptive lapses, but indicated that they were more likely to report a new male partner (relative risk, 1.7). Most participants (80%) had a regular source of sexual and reproductive health care; 42% of travelers had seen a health care provider in preparation for their trip.
If the findings are corroborated by additional research, they may suggest a role for health care providers in students’ pretravel period.
At the time of data collection, Summer L. Martins was a doctoral student in the Division of Epidemiology and Community Health, University of Minnesota School of Public Health, where Susan M. Mason is an assistant professor, Wendy L. Hellerstedt is an associate professor emerita and Sonya S. Brady is an associate professor.