The spread of HIV in sub-Saharan Africa is believed to be driven by unsafe sex, and identification of modifiable risk factors of the latter is needed for comprehensive HIV prevention programming in the region. Some previous studies suggest an association between alcohol abuse and unsafe sexual behaviour, such as multiple concurrent sexual partnerships and inconsistent condom use in sex with non-spousal non-cohabiting partners. However, most of these studies were conducted in developed countries and the few studies in Africa were conducted among well-defined social groups such as men attending beer halls or sexually transmitted infection clinics. We therefore examined the association between alcohol and extramarital sex (a sign of multiple concurrent sexual partnerships) among men in a population-based survey in Cameroon; a low-income country in sub-Saharan Africa with a high rate of alcohol abuse and a generalised HIV epidemic.
We analyzed data from 2678 formally married or cohabiting men aged 15 to 59 years, who participated in the 2004 Cameroon Demographic and Health Survey, using a multivariate regression model.
A quarter of the men (25.8%) declared having taken alcohol before their last sexual intercourse and 21% indicated that the last sex was with a woman other than their wife or cohabiting partner. After controlling for possible confounding by other socio-demographic characteristics, alcohol use was significantly associated with having extramarital sex: adjusted odds ratio (OR) 1.70, 95% confidence intervals (CI) 1.40 to 2.05. Older age (30–44 years: OR 3.06, 95%CI 2.16–4.27 and 45–59 years: OR 4.10, 95%CI 2.16–4.27), higher education (OR 1.25, 95%CI 1.10–1.45), and wealth (OR 1.71, 95%CI 1.50–1.98) were also significantly associated with higher odds of having extramarital sex. The men were more likely to have used a condom in their last sex if it was extramarital (OR 10.50, 95%CI 8.10–13.66). Older age at first sex (16–19 years: OR 0.81, 95%CI 0.72–0.90 and > 19 years: OR 0.74, 95% CI 0.65–0.87) and being the head of a household (OR 0.17, 95%CI 0.14–0.22) significantly decreased the odds of having sex outside of marriage. Religion and place of residence (whether urban or rural) were not significantly associated with extramarital sex.
Alcohol use is associated with having multiple concurrent non-spousal sexual partnerships among married men in Cameroon. We cannot infer a causal relationship between alcohol abuse and unsafe sex from this cross-sectional study, as both alcohol use and unsafe sexual behaviour may have a common set of causal personal and social factors. However, given the consistency with results of studies in other settings and the biologic plausibility of the link between alcohol intake and unsafe sex, our findings underscore the need for integrating alcohol abuse and HIV prevention efforts in Cameroon and other African countries with similar social profiles.