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To describe the association between religion and factors related to sexually transmitted diseases (STD)/AIDS in a country where religious leaders were involved early in prevention.A cross-sectional study conducted in a rural area in central Senegal.Questionnaire-based interviews of a random sample of 858 adults from the general population aged 15–59 years and in-depth interviews of four religious leaders and 50 people.Seventy-six per cent of the respondents were Muslim, 24% Catholic, 1% Animist and 0.2% Protestant. A total of 86% of men and 87% of women reported religion to be very important to them. Important prevention-related variables were inversely associated with the importance of religion. Men who considered religion to be very important were less likely to cite AIDS as a major health problem [odds ratio (OR) 0.4, P = 0.008] and were less likely to feel at risk of getting HIV (OR 0.5, P = 0.0005). Women who considered religion to be very important were less likely to report an intention to change to protect themselves from AIDS (OR 0.2, P = 0.0001), less likely to report having discussed AIDS with others (OR 0.4, P = 0.01) and much more likely to feel at risk of getting HIV (OR 9.3, P = 10−4). Individuals who considered religion to be very important were not more likely to report intending to or actually having become faithful to protect themselves from AIDS.These findings stress the need to intensify the involvement of religious authorities in HIV/STD prevention at the local level.