WHO South-East Asia Journal of Public Health
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 Table of Contents  
Year : 2012  |  Volume : 1  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 69-75

Behavioural risk factors of men associated with transmission of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in Sri Lanka

1 National STD/AIDS Control Programme, No. 29, De Saram Place, Colombo, Sri Lanka
2 Department of Sociology, University of Peradeniya, Peradeniya, Sri Lanka
3 Department of Basic Sciences, University of Peradeniya, Peradeniya, Sri Lanka

Date of Web Publication24-May-2017

Correspondence Address:
Kuruppu AS Jayawardena
National STD/AIDS Control Programme, No. 29, De Saram Place, Colombo
Sri Lanka
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/2224-3151.206916

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Background: Unprotected sex is a major risk factor for transmission of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). We explored the behavioural risk factors for STIs among men who presented with STI-related symptoms.
Methods: A systematic sample of 112 males presenting with STI symptoms at district sexually transmitted disease (STD) clinic located in Kandy, Sri Lanka were enrolled during 2009. They were interviewed using a semi-structured questionnaire. Selected sexual behaviours were discussed with them in greater detail. The chi-square and difference-in-two-proportion tests were used for testing the statistical significance for quantitative data, and qualitative methods were used for the analysis of responses to open-ended questions and in-depth discussion.
Results: The median age of the respondents was 28 years. The majority of them (56%) had never been married. The median age at the first sexual intercourse was 22 years. The majority (87%) of respondents had their first intercourse before marriage; mostly with older females. Most (103, 92%) men reported having sexual intercourse during the past six months; of them, 40.8% had sex with multiple partners. Only 18.5% used condoms at the first premarital intercourse. The consistent use of condoms with non-marital partners during the past six months was only 13.7%. Common reasons for non-use of condoms were: belief that partner was faithful; poor knowledge about risk of unprotected sex; view that condoms reduce pleasure and negatively affect intimacy; and inhibition in accessing condoms in public.
Conclusions: Sexual behaviours were found to be risky among men attending STD clinics in Sri Lanka. Strategies of sexual health promotion among vulnarable groups should be evaluated for planning proper interventions.

Keywords: Sexual behaviours, male, pre-marital sex, condom use, sexually transmitted infections, Sri Lanka

How to cite this article:
Jayawardena KA, Silva KT, Jayawardena CK, Samarakoon S. Behavioural risk factors of men associated with transmission of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in Sri Lanka. WHO South-East Asia J Public Health 2012;1:69-75

How to cite this URL:
Jayawardena KA, Silva KT, Jayawardena CK, Samarakoon S. Behavioural risk factors of men associated with transmission of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in Sri Lanka. WHO South-East Asia J Public Health [serial online] 2012 [cited 2022 Aug 14];1:69-75. Available from: http://www.who-seajph.org/text.asp?2012/1/1/69/206916

  Introduction Top

In developing countries sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and their complications rank among the top five disease categories for which adults seek health care.[1] Control of STIs has received renewed attention during the last few decades, following the emergence of HIV as a major public health problem around the world. There is a strong link between common STIs and sexual transmission of HIV.[1] The spread of STIs including HIV is directly influenced by a number of biological and behavioural determinants, which in turn are influenced by a number of other factors such as demographic, socioeconomic and cultural characteristics of the individual person and the populations in which they live.[2] In Sri Lanka, sexual behaviour has been studied in many population groups that are often considered as vulnerable for HIV. According to these studies, men reported a significantly higher involvement in risky sexual behaviour compared with their female counterparts.[3],[4],[5] Rawstorne and Worth reported in 2007 that sexual behaviour varied considerably among different vulnerable groups with some groups showing high levels of risk for HIV due to unprotected sex with casual and regular partners in Sri Lanka.[6]

The National STD/AIDS Control Programme in Sri Lanka routinely collects only the baseline characteristics of persons seeking STI and HIV care in government STD clinics. However, available data do not adequately describe the factors associated with transmission of these infections in local communities. Lack of such information is a challenge while developing a comprehensive strategy to control STIs and HIV. Reliable data on human sexual behaviour are not easy to collect. The quality of such data could vary depending on the study type, study population, study setting, and data collection method. In a clinic set up at the time of medical consultation, respondents may disclose complete information related to their sexual behaviour than in a large community survey. Thus, this study aimed to explore sexual behaviours of men seeking care in a government STD clinic in order to understand behavioural risk factors of men associated with transmission of STIs in Sri Lanka.

  Methods Top

This descriptive study was conducted in the district STD clinic of Kandy in Sri Lanka. The study was approved by the Ethical Review Committee of the Faculty of Medicine, University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka. One hundred and twelve new male clinic attendees with STI-related complaints were interviewed from 1 January to 30 June 2009. The main register of male clinic attendees was used as the sampling frame. The study sample was selected using a systematic random sampling method after excluding the cases of sexual abuse.

The Principal Investigator of the study - a medical officer having patient counselling skills in the same clinic, interviewed all the selected study subjects at the time of the first medical consultation. The respondents were explained individually that the information collected from them would be treated with confidentiality before obtaining voluntary consent for their participation in the study. At the interview, privacy was ensured and respondents were given adequate time to share their information and feelings with the investigator. A detailed account of presenting complaint, socio-demographic profile, substance abuse, present and past sexual practices including use of condoms, and knowledge about STIs/ AIDS and safe sexual practices was obtained by using a semi-structured questionnaire with a number of open-ended questions. Each interview was also accompanied by a discussion so as to gather more information on selected behaviours. Responses were cross-checked where necessary to improve the reliability of data. Subsequently, individuals underwent the routine examination and collection of necessary specimens to diagnose STIs including HIV.

Statistical analysis

This study collected both quantitative and qualitative data from the respondents. The qualitative data were mainly derived from open-ended questions and discussions held with respondents on selected variables. The quantitative data were entered into an “Excel” worksheet and analysed using descriptive statistics. The Minitab-14 statistical software was used for comparisons. The qualitative data were appropriately used where necessary to complement the quantitative data.

  Results Top

The median age of the sample was 28 years. The majority (76%) of respondents were in the age group of 16-35 years. Most (93.7%) respondents had completed education up to the tenth grade or above. Fifty five per cent respondents were never married. Most (87%) respondents were currently employed [Table 1]. Sixty per cent respondents were current smokers and 91% had taken alcohol at a social event. Thirteen per cent were currently taking narcotic substances while another 24% had tried these at least once in the past. However, no one reported to having injected these drugs.
Table 1: Socio-demographic characteristics of respondents

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The median age for the first penetrative sexual intercourse was 22 years. Forty two (37.5%) men had initiated sexual intercourse between the age of 15–20 years. One respondent denied ever having penetrative sex. The first sexual partners were -girl friends (32, 28.8%); casual female partners (27, 24.3%); sex workers (27, 24.3%); marital partners (14, 12.6%); female relatives (2, 1.8%); and casual homosexual partners (9, 8.1%). Ninety-seven (87%) respondents had the first sexual intercourse before marriage. The majority (53.6%) of them had sex with an older female partner. The interview also revealed that many respondents hardly had any information about their casual sex partners while a substantial number of them stated that they had sex with those women who returned from foreign employment. When the respondents were asked to provide information about the type of sex they had in their first penetrative sexual intercourse, a majority 64(57.6%) of them reported vaginal sex only while 35(31.5%) reported vaginal and oral intercourse. Very few had anal sex with female partners while 6(5.4%) had anal sex with male partners. Only 18.5% used condoms at the first sexual intercourse with non-marital partners and it was mainly confined to vaginal sex.

The interviews further revealed that some men who initiated penetrative sex with commercial sex workers and casual partners already had their own girl friends. However, these men never had penetrative sex with their girl friends. According to them, their girl friends had frequently resisted penetrative sex with them mainly to protect virginity and to avoid premarital conception. It was also revealed that some respondents had selected a casual partner or sex worker to initiate penetrative sex in order to test their sexual virility before entering into sexual relationship with their regular partner. Some men practised a range of non-penetrative sex methods with their girl friends before having full penetrative sex with other women.

Sexual practices of respondents during the past six months were also enquired into. One hundred and three (92%) respondents reported penetrative sexual intercourse during this period [Table 2]. Among them, a significantly higher proportion of never-married men (77.4%) than married men (50%) had sexual intercourse with non-regular partners (p 0.002). With regard to the use of condoms during the past six months, only 13.8% had consistently used condoms. And 58.8% had never used condoms with their partners outside the marital relationship [Table 2]. A statistically significant difference was not observed between married and unmarried men with respect to non-use of condoms with non-marital partners (p 0.4). The reasons for non-use of condoms were the belief that the partner was faithful; lack of knowledge about the risk of unprotected sex; view that condoms harmed pleasure and intimacy; and inhibition to accessing condoms in public. We further analysed condom use with different partner categories using data for the last sexual intercourse outside marital relationship [Table 3]. Condoms were used more frequently with the commercial sex workers (53.6%) than with casual (12.2%) and regular (14.4%) partners (p <0.01).
Table 2: Reported sexual behaviour of respondents during the past six months

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Table 3: Condom use in different partner categories at the last intercourse outside the marital relationship

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The study also explored whether men consumed alcohol or narcotics before or during sex. Only 5% admitted to having consumed these substances during or before sex. On further enquiry, 14% stated that they used tablets to prolong the duration of sexual intercourse. However, none of these men had evidence of erectile dysfunction. Further, it was revealed that a proportion of the aphrodisiac tablet users believed that their ejaculating time was too short; therefore, they took these tablets to hide their perceived sexual dysfunction. Married men hardly reported having a strained family life. The common reasons given by these men for having extramarital sex were lack of responsiveness of the regular partner and to enjoy a different type of sexual experience in addition to the regular one.

Over 90% respondents had heard about AIDS and STIs. However, their knowledge about transmission of these infections was poor. They often thought that having sex with a casual partner is safer than sex with a commercial sex worker. When the respondents were asked about the best method to have safe sexual intercourse, majority of them (72%) stated the use of condoms followed by sex with a faithful partner (4%) and avoiding vaginal sex (4%). Many of those who talked about condoms were not aware that oral and anal sex without condoms is also risky. Twenty per cent men never stated any method of practising safe sex. The majority (94%) of respondents and their sex partners never enquired from each other about their HIV and STI status before or after having sex. They thought that asking about such information would harm their relationship. In the study sample, 67(60%) were found to have STIs according to the clinical manifestations and laboratory investigations.

  Discussion Top

Premarital sex including early initiation of sexual intercourse is a public health problem worldwide.[7],[8],[9] Literature reveals that risky sexual practices are consistently higher among men than their female counterparts in Sri Lanka.[3],[4],[5] Promoting safe sex among men could therefore make a large contribution to the control of STIs including HIV.

Our study sample comprised fairly educated people [Table 1]. In Sri Lanka, the human reproductive system is taught in grades 9 and 10 in schools. However, risky sexual behaviours reported by the respondents were mainly related to lack of knowledge or ignorance about the correct safe sex practices. Use of condoms was extremely low with all types of sexual partners except with commercial sex workers. This probably indicates that people tend to use condoms with partners perceived to be at high risk but not with those perceived to be safe. Sex with commercial sex workers is frequently considered as unsafe. Some sex workers also carry condoms and insist that clients use them. Rawstorne and Worth in 2007 also reported a similar pattern of condom use in other population groups studied, namely three-wheel drivers, drug users and male factory workers of Sri Lanka.[6]

A substantial proportion of men felt inhibited to access condoms in public. In Sri Lankan culture people frequently link the use of condoms with promiscuity or illicit sex. As a result, some of those who wish to have safe sex would go for unprotected sex unless a condom is secretly accessed. Non-use of condoms may also have a symbolic function reflecting the intimacy of the relationship. Thus some people who try to show their intimacy to their non-regular partners become vulnerable to STIs and HIV. This study also revealed that a proportion of never-married men, who had their own girl friends, had penetrative sex with commercial sex workers and casual partners for various reasons. This should be a serious concern because men who acquire infections through such practices may subsequently transmit infections to their spouses after their marriage. It was also observed that a majority of married men who had extramarital sex hardly had a strained family life. This perhaps indicates a decreasing significance of marriage and family in regulating sexual behaviour in a section of the present society. However, this type of behaviour cannot be considered “sexual liberation” as such but rather a factor that enhances vulnerability for STIs and HIV.

The social stigma attached to HIV (including other STIs) and discriminative practices in health-care settings seriously challenge the control of these infections in Asian countries.[10] Stigmatization of these infections was also manifested among the respondents of this study as majority (94%) of them avoided asking their sexual partners about the STI and HIV status before or after sexual contact. A substantial proportion of men were taking self-medication to prolong their sexual act or to hide their perceived sexual dysfunction. The lack of knowledge about sex organs and the natural process of sexual intercourse probably encourages such practices leading to a higher risk of sexually-transmitted infections.

The coexistence of alcohol use and sex has the potential to increase risks associated with sexual intercourse. WHO has reported a strong coexistence of alcohol use and sexual behaviour in a cross-cultural study conducted in eight countries.[11] Our study showed that only 5% of the sample had alcohol before or during sexual intercourse. However, data generated from this study are not adequate to comment on relationship between sex and use of alcohol. The sample of this study by and large represented the low and middle socioeconomic level. Thus data on high-risk sexual practices of the higher socioeconomic class were probably underrepresented. The reasons for extremely low representation of the higher socioeconomic class in the study population could be the low incidence of STI-related symptoms in them or that they go to the private sector for treatment.

The Sri Lankan culture does not approve premarital and extramarital sex as a norm. A national survey in 1996 reported that more than 90% youths in the 16 – 29 year age group did not approve premarital sex under any circumstances.[12] Although the sample of this study is not fully representative of the population at large, the results indicate that there is a considerable gap between the publicly accepted sexual norm and the actual behaviour. Most men were either unaware or ignorant of the correct information about safe sexual practices. To achieve better control of STIs and AIDS in Sri Lanka, the deficits in sexual health promotion among vulnerable populations should be carefully identified and addressed.


We sincerely thank the respondents for their voluntary participation. We are grateful to the clinic staff of the STD clinic in Kandy, Sri Lanka for their support.

  References Top

Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS. The public health approach to STD control: technical update. Geneva: UNAIDS, 1998. www.who.int/ entity/hiv/pub/sti/pubstistd/en/index.html - accessed 5 January 2012.  Back to cited text no. 1
Stefano MB, Marjorie O. An economic perspective on sexually transmitted infections including HIV in developing countries. In: Holmes KK, Sparling PF, Stamm PF, Piot P, Wasserheit JN, Corey L, Choen MS, Watts DH, editors. Sexually Transmitted Diseases. 4th ed. New York: Mc Graw Hill, 2008. pp. 13-27.  Back to cited text no. 2
Silva KT, Sivayoganathan C, Schensul S. Peer culture and social context of love and sex in a sample of university students in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka Journal of Social Sciences. 1998; 21: 59-82.  Back to cited text no. 3
Talagala N. National survey on emerging issues among adolescents in Sri Lanka. Colombo: UNICEF; 2004. http://www.unicef.org/srilanka/full_report. pdf - accessed 5 January 2012.  Back to cited text no. 4
Perera B, Reece M. Sexual behaviour of young adults in Sri Lanka: implications for HIV prevention. AIDS Care. 2006; 18: 497-500.  Back to cited text no. 5
Rawstorne P, Worth H. Sri Lanka behavioural surveillance survey: first round survey results 2006 - 2007. Colombo: Ministry of Health Care and Nutrition, Sri Lanka, 2007.  Back to cited text no. 6
Johnson AM, Mercer CH, Erens B, Copas AJ, Mcmanus S, Wellings K, et al. Sexual behaviour in Britain: partnerships, practices, and HIV risk behaviours. Lancet. 2001; 358: 1835 – 1842.  Back to cited text no. 7
Wellings K, Nanchahal K, Macdowall W. McManus S, Erens B, Mercer CH, et al. Sexual behaviour in Britain: early heterosexual experience. Lancet. 2001; 358: 1843 – 1850.  Back to cited text no. 8
Adikari R, Jyotsna T. Premarital sexual behaviour among male college students of Katmandu, Nepal. BMC Public Health. 2009; 9: 241. http://www. biomedcentral.com/1471-2458/9/241 - accessed 5 January 2012.  Back to cited text no. 9
World Health Organization, Regional Office for South – East Asia. HIV/AIDS in the South - East Asia Region: Progress Report 2010. http://www. searo.who.int/LinkFiles/HIV-AIDS_HIV_report-2010- 30Nov.pdf - accessed 5 January 2012.  Back to cited text no. 10
World Health Organization. Alcohol use and sexual risk behaviour: a cross cultural study in eight countries. Geneva: WHO, 2005.  Back to cited text no. 11
Basnayake S. Sri Lankan youth survey on reproductive health knowledge, attitudes, and practices. Colombo: Family Planning Association of Sri Lanka, 1996.  Back to cited text no. 12


  [Table 1], [Table 2], [Table 3]


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