It seems that British backpackers could be taking home much more than sunburnt skin and a bag full of souvenirs for Mum.
A study by researchers at the University of New South Wales has found British travellers could be driving the spread of sexually transmitted infections in Australia, with a survey showing most of them have triple the number of partners than they have at home – and many are not using condoms.
A survey of 1008 backpackers at hostels in Sydney and Cairns found many were having sex with multiple partners – including those who were in a relationship when they arrived.
Of those who arrived in the country single, 41 per cent reported inconsistent condom use and 24 per cent had unprotected sex with multiple partners, the survey found. Even among those who arrived with a partner, almost one in five reported more than one sexual partner since arriving in Australia.
The survey also found that 60 per cent of males and 44 per cent of females were using illicit drugs in Australia. The vast majority of them were visiting bars and clubs and drinking alcohol regularly too.
The results of the study, a joint project between John Moores University in London and the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, were published in the latest edition of Sexually Transmitted Infections.
The authors said high alcohol consumption, illicit drug use and unsafe sex meant the backpackers were at high risk of getting sexually transmitted infections and other health problems.
”High rates of partner change, along with unsafe sexual practices, create an ideal environment for STIs [sexually transmitted infections] to rapidly spread,” the authors said.
Dr Stephen Davies, medical director at Northern Sydney Central Health Service, conducted a survey of 430 backpackers across Sydney earlier this year.
“[The rate of condom use was] not great among new partners. It’s leaving them open to giving infections if we surmise that condoms are very good at preventing STIs, and they are,” he said.
Liam Ryan and Samantha Bartle met on Fraser Island three weeks ago and have been together since. Among other British tourists, they acknowledge that long-term relationships are not common. It is not suggested that either of them engage in improper behaviour or may have STIs.
“Back at home you go to work and you do your thing every day and you stay in your circles,” Ms Bartle, 26, said. “When you’re over here, you meet more people.”
Mr Ryan, 27, agrees: “You’re coming out here looking to meet new people and have new lives and you leave the girlfriend at home and meet liberal women,” he said.
Ms Bartle said she has had two partners in the eight months she has been in Australia, and has never had a sexually transmitted infection. She said some men do not take the same protections in Australia: “Boys don’t buy condoms over here,” she said.
Mr Ryan, who has had three partners, said that “girls should carry the condoms as well”.