Cari Egan

Postgraduate Research

Graduation Year: 2009

Research Area: HIV & Sexual Health Risk & Risk Reduction

Research Topic: Sexual behaviour of international backpackers in the context of travel in Australia
Supervisor: E/Prof Susan Kippax

Cari was an external PhD candidate with CSRH and was co-supervised by Juliet Richters, UNSW Medicine.

Description: This study is the first to collect detailed empirical data on sexual practice among backpackers while exploring the material and social context of backpacking using an ethnographic framework. The theoretical concepts of liminality and sexual scripts were drawn on to analyse the findings. Backpackers were recruited from hostels in Sydney and Cairns; 559 backpackers (243 women, 316 men) completed an anonymous self-administered questionnaire. In addition, 25 in-depth one-to-one interviews with backpackers and 25 semi-structured interviews were conducted with sexual health and travel clinic staff and hostel service providers. Participant and non-participant observation in backpacker hostels also informed the analysis. Drinking alcohol, often to excess, was central to the backpacking setting and was both a reason for and a post-facto justification of unprotected sex. The backpacking setting encouraged transient liaisons. More than half (55%) of backpackers had sex with someone new during their trip and for 71% of them it was with someone that they had just met that day. Twenty-five per cent of those with no expectations to have casual sex on their trip and 22% of those with no previous experience of casual sex had casual sex during their trip. More than half (53%) of those who had sex with a someone new did so while other people were in the room. Only 55% always used a condom with their last new partner. While most backpackers carried condoms and intended to use them, unprotected sex was common. Perception of risk was low: 78% of those who did not use a condom the last time they had casual sex on the trip perceived their risk of getting HIV to be “low” to “nil”. Three participants acquired HIV during their trip. The culture of backpacking encourages more sexually permissive attitudes but does not encourage condom use, especially for those who did not consistently use condoms at home. These findings highlight the need for more broad-based dissemination of information on STIs to young people, and for future sexual health campaigns to specifically target backpackers in the context in which they travel.

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