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Study: 'Swingers' need more sexual health support

People who engage in group sex and partner swapping should be offered tailored interventions by sexual health services, researchers have claimed. 

A new study published in Sexually Transmitted Infections found that people 'swingers' increase their risk of catching sexually transmitted infections (STIs) if they engage in multiple drug use. 

Swingers are described as heterosexuals who, as a couple, practice mate swapping or group sex and/or visit sex clubs for couples. 

Swingers have recently been classified as an emerging high-risk group for STIs, however previous studies focuses on women and men who have sex with men. 

Dutch researchers studied 289 people, with an average age of 49, who self-identified as swingers and visited an STI clinic from 2009 to 2012. 

The participants filled in self-administered questionnaire on their sexual and drug use behaviour while swinging over the previous six months. 

The researchers assessed associations between sexual behaviour, drug use and STI diagnoses including Chlamydia trachomatis (CT), Neisseria gonorrhoea (NG), syphilis, HIV and hepatitis B.

Recreational drugs included methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA), gamma hydroxybutyrate (GHB), laughing gas, cannabis, alkyl nitrites (poppers), (meth)amphetamines, cocaine, ketamine and lysergic acid (LSD). 

A quarter of the male participants had had sex with male swing partners over the past six months. More than half of all participants had participated in group sex, and half of them did not use condoms. 

Half of all respondents had six or more sex partners during the previous six months, and had not used a condom during vaginal sex. 

Overall, the prevalence of Chlamydia and/or gonorrhoea was 13% but no other STIs were observed. 

More than three quarters (79%) of swingers reported recreational drug use (including alcohol and use of erectile dysfunction drugs); while almost half (46%) of them reported multiple drug use.

Recreational drug use excluding alcohol and erectile dysfunction drugs (reported by 48%) was linked to high-risk behaviours in men and women while drug use was only independently associated with STIs in female swingers, especially those who practiced group sex.

The researchers concluded: “Drug-using populations are a target for interventions that address the practice of safer sex along with secondary prevention of drug use.

“By dealing with all these items properly, more tailored prevention and enhanced STI screening are likely to produce gains for both individuals and the population (reduced STI burden).”

The full study is available to view online