A rather intrusive study of condom use in Nicaraguan motels both clears up some nagging questions and poses new ones, according to a recent HIV prevention study published in the Lancet.
To investigate ways of increasing condom use in Latin America, researchers handed out rubbers to 6,500 couples who were checking into 19 different motels in Managua. Other condoms were given out at the request of the couples, and still more were discreetly left in the rooms. In some cases, health-education materials were also provided. The study continued for 24 days.
Once the couples checked out of the rooms, investigators bravely searched the rooms for signs that condoms had been used -- which pretty much meant rummaging around for an unrolled latex sheath dripping with semen. Science is not always pretty, but data is data.
Results of this unsavory-sounding study concluded that hookers and their johns were more inclined to take a shower in a raincoat, as the saying goes, especially if they were handed rubbers before entering a motel room. About 61 percent of couples used condoms for "commercial sex," i.e. prostitution, and 20 percent used condoms for "noncommercial sex." But researchers noted that if health brochures were left in the room, the rate of condom use among hookers actually dropped. Working girls apparently don't appreciate advice from the government.
Scientists who led the study admitted the findings were unexpected. "It is possible that some clients got upset by this attempt to influence their behavior in a relationship where they, as the paying clients, hold all the power," suggested lead author Matthias Egger. "Our findings confirm that information alone is insufficient to change behavior," said the report.
The study also urged that condoms should be made available widely in motel rooms, perhaps even provided free of charge by motel owners. The motels' maids might have a different opinion about motel rooms teeming with used condoms, but their views were not represented.
An estimated 80,000 sexual encounters could be protected in Managua each year, the report added, if condoms were placed in motel rooms.