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A qualitative study of attitudes towards, typologies, and drivers of concurrent partnerships among people of black Caribbean ethnicity in England and their implications for STI prevention

BMC Public Health, 2020; 20:188 (doi: 10.1186/s12889-020-8168-0).

Authors: Sonali Wayal, Makeda Gerressu, Peter Weatherburn, Victoria Gilbart, Gwenda Hughes & Catherine H. Mercer

Abstract

Background: Partner concurrency, (having sexual partnerships overlapping in time), especially when condoms are not used, can facilitate sexually transmitted infections (STI) transmission. In Britain, STI diagnoses rates and the reporting of concurrency are higher among black Caribbeans than other ethnic groups. We explored attitudes towards, drivers, characteristics, and contexts of concurrent partnerships, and their implications for STI risk among black Caribbeans in England.

Methods: Purposive sampling, by sex and age-groups, was used to recruit participants (overall n = 59) from five sexual health clinics and community settings in London and Birmingham, England. Audio-recorded four focus group discussions (n = 28 participants), and in-depth interviews (n = 31) were conducted (June 2014–December 2015). Transcribed data were thematically analysed using Framework Analysis.

Results: ‘Main plus’ and ‘non-main’ concurrency were identified in this population. Main plus concurrency involves an individual having a main partner with whom s/he has a “relationship” with, and the individual and/or their partner secretly or explicitly have other non-main partners. In contrast, non-main concurrency entails having multiple, non-committed partners overlapping in time, where concurrency is usually taken as a given, making disclosure to partners irrelevant. While main partnerships were usually long-term, non-main partnerships ranged in duration from a single event through to encounters lasting several months/years. Condomless sex was common with ex/long-term/married/cohabiting partners; whereas condoms were typically used with non-main partners. However, condom use declined with partnership duration and familiarity with partners. Awareness of partners’ concurrency facilitated condom use, STI-testing, and partner notification. While unresolved feelings, or sharing children with ex-partners, usually facilitated main plus concurrency; non-main concurrency was common among young, and single people. Gender norms, notions of masculinity, and sexual desires influenced concurrency. Black Caribbean popular music, social media, peer pressure, and relationship norms among black Caribbeans were also perceived to encourage concurrency, especially among men and young people.

Conclusions: Concurrency among black Caribbeans is shaped by a complex interaction between emotional/psychological, interpersonal, sociocultural, and structural factors. Concurrency type, its duration, and awareness influence sexual health choices, and thus STI risk in this population. Collecting these data during clinic consultations could facilitate offering partner notification methods tailored to concurrency type. Gender- and age-specific, culturally-sensitive interventions addressing STI risks associated with concurrency are needed.

Keywords: concurrency; ethnicity; sexually transmitted infection; qualitative; sexual behaviour

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