November 19, 2008
This summer holiday period, the New South Wales Health Department, four Sydney-area councils, and the NSW Backpackers Operators Association are targeting young international travelers with safe-sex messages. The "Safe in the Sack Project" kicks off Dec. 1 and runs through March.
The campaign was prompted by new research from the Sydney Sexual Health Center showing that a culture of binge drinking among young backpackers may be leading to unsafe sexual behaviors and higher STD rates compared with the general population. Dr. Lynne Wray, SSHC's acting director, said the study of 4,382 travelers and 8,810 non-travelers ages 18-30 who visited the clinic between 1998 and 2006 found 19 percent of travelers drank alcohol at excessive levels, compared with 8 percent for non-travelers.
Of female travelers, 25 percent consumed more than 14 standard drinks per week. Of male travelers, 15 percent consumed more than 28 standard drinks per week. They were more likely to drink that amount -- 140g of alcohol for women, 280g for men -- in "one or two sessions a week," the study found.
"Often when they take risks with their sexual health and have unprotected sex, they will often say to us, I'd had too much to drink,'" said Wray.
"The number of heterosexual backpackers coming to the clinic with new [STDs] is of great concern," said Wray. "A small proportion of these also have HIV infections that they have acquired in other countries on the way to Australia."
The incidence of chlamydia among backpackers was 8 percent, compared with 5 percent for non-travelers. In addition, 43 percent of travelers reported two or more sex partners in a three-month period, compared with 30 percent of non-travelers.