Navy condom strategies work — in foreign ports

Study highlights intervention strategies

Researchers studying condom use among men enlisted in the U.S. Navy found that strategies promoting condom use in foreign parts appear to be working effectively, although more intervention efforts are needed in home ports.1

Condom use with steady partners varied from 7% to 13%; condom use with casual partners at home varied from 39% to 46%; and condom use with casual partners in a foreign port varied from 52% to 69%.1

"There’s a sense that when [Navy men] are on deployment, they’re on guard, which facilitates condom use," says Anne E. Norris, PhD, APRN, BC, FAAN, associate professor at Boston College, William F. Connell School of Nursing in Chestnut Hill, MA.

"Also, the Navy has done smart things," she adds.

As soon as a ship pulls into a foreign port, the TV system, broadcasting throughout living areas, including the mess hall, lounges, and rooms, has a slide presentation about STD rates, HIV rates, and risk, Norris says.

"It identifies areas in the city where you shouldn’t go in terms of not being safe from a physical and sexual health safety standpoint," she explains.

Also, some medical departments on ships make condoms available. For these reasons, investigators found a low incidence of STD symptoms and diagnosis in the naval population, Norris says.

"The data are fairly consistent with other data the Navy has and are even consistent with some civilian data with men," she says.

Researchers interviewed subjects at the end of their deployment, as they were on their way back to the United States, Norris says. "We didn’t ask about prostitutes — we just asked about sex with partners they didn’t know very well."

Other questions explored their confidence in using condoms consistently and whether they thought they could stop and put on a condom if they’d been drinking, she says.

"One thing that was interesting was that alcohol use had an impact on condom use for the whites in the sample, but not for the other groups," Norris points out. "Alcohol intake actually enhanced condom use for that group."

Since there’s a strong mental association among some people between drinking and risky sex, it’s possible that men who are drinking may make an automatic mental connection to using a condom, she continues.

"When you’re drinking your brain goes on autopilot, so you’re more prone to engage in behaviors where you have strong associations," Norris explains.

"Another interesting thing was we had a ship effect, but only for certain ethic groups," she says. "This was only for whites and biracial people, who may have less strong cultural identity so they may be more influenced by being on deployment."

The effect was that white men who were returning from Iraq were less likely to use condoms consistently than those on the carrier that saw the initial action in Afghanistan, Norris adds. "Biracial men were using condoms more."


1. Norris AE, Phillips RE, Statton MA, Pearson TA. Condom use and sexual behavior of U.S. male enlisted personnel with multiple partners in home and foreign ports. Presented at the XV International AIDS Conference. Bangkok, Thailand; July 2004. Abstract: TuPeC4913.