Sexual Behaviors, Experiences of Sexual Violence, and Substance Use among Women Who inject Drugs: Accessing Health and Prevention Services in Puerto Rico

Erika M. Collazo-Vargas, Brian Dodge, Debby Herbenick, Lucia Guerra-Reyes, Rasul Mowatt, Ilia M. Otero-Cruz, Carlos Rodríguez-Díaz


Objective: People who inject drugs (PWID) face numerous gender-specific health risks, which increase their susceptibility to adverse outcomes, including violence. There is a need for research on female PWID to capture their unique experiences and understand behavioral and gender-based differences. This study aimed to understand which drug use and sexual behaviors are the most prevalent among female PWID accessing health services in Puerto Rico and to gather preliminary information on those individuals’ experiences of sexual violence. Methods: Utilizing a transformative theoretical perspective, a mixed-methods study was conducted with a sample of 90 Puerto Rican women who reported recent (past 12 months) injection drug use (IDU) This manuscript focused on Phase 1, in which participants completed an interviewer-administered survey eliciting information about sexual behaviors, drug use, experiences of sexual violence, and access to healthcare services. Phase 2 involved an in-depth interview focused on sexual health and access to healthcare services. Results: Female PWID were found to engage in a variety of sexual behaviors throughout their lifespans and at their most recent sexual events. There were significant differences across age groups for participants, those being time of most recent sexual event (p = 0.007), partner’s sex (p = 0.039), relationship with partner (p = 0.023), contraception method used (p = 0.057), and reports of partner orgasm (p = 0.055). Over half of all participants reported having experienced sexual violence in their lifetime. Conclusion: This study extends the literature on PWID in Puerto Rico by underscoring the diversity of female PWID sexual experiences and needs while illustrating how those experiences are often mediated by drug use. The findings highlight the need for further research on female PWID in Puerto Rico to better develop programs that include sexual violence prevention as part of future interventions for this population.


Sexual Behavior; Female IDU; Sexual Violence; Puerto Rico

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