Using Qualitative Methods to Understand Perceptions of Risk and Condom Use in African American College Women: Implications for Sexual Health Promotion

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Background. Young African American women are disproportionately affected with sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and unintentional pregnancies. Despite adequate knowledge, assertiveness, and negotiation skills, consistent condom use remains low. Aims. We sought to assess the role of pregnancy and STI risk perception in condom decision making among African American women. Method. We conducted a phenomenological qualitative study. Utilizing a purposive sampling strategy, 100 African American women (18-24 years) were recruited from a historically Black college and university for an open discussion of condom use. Thirteen focus groups were conducted via a semistructured interview guide and analyzed with an inductive thematic approach. Results. Uniformly women perceived pregnancy as a greater threat than STIs which appears to be maintained by (a) their sense of fertility, (b) self-care concept, and (c) experiences with condom failure. Thus, women were skeptical about using condoms as a form of contraception. Women perceived casual sex as having the greatest HIV/STI risk and emphasized the importance of assertiveness and self-respect to negotiate condom use. However, condom use in monogamous relationships is less likely due to (a) testing/knowing partner’s status, (b) relationship trust, and (c) the use of hormonal contraception for pregnancy prevention. Perceived threat of infidelity increases condom use. Conclusion. The implications of these findings suggest sexual health promotion programs may focus on improving women’s estimate of the effectiveness of condoms to prevent pregnancy and addressing women’s reliance on testing for STI prevention.

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