Background Alcohol consumption has a disinhibiting effect that may make sexual risk behaviors and disease transmission more likely. The characteristics of alcohol-serving outlets (e.g. music, dim lights, lack of condoms) may further encourage risky sexual activity. We hypothesize that frequenting alcohol outlets will be associated with HIV risk. Methods In a sample of 2,533 school-attending young women in rural South Africa, we performed a cross-sectional analysis to examine the association between frequency of alcohol outlet visits in the last six months and four outcomes related to HIV risk: number of sex partners in the last three months, unprotected sex acts in the last three months, transactional sex with most recent partner, and HSV-2 infection.We also tested for interaction by alcohol consumption. Results Visiting alcohol outlets was associated with having more sex partners [adjusted odds ratio (aOR), one versus zero partners (95% confidence interval (CI)): 1.51 (1.21, 1.88)], more unprotected sex acts [aOR, one versus zero acts (95% CI): 2.28 (1.52, 3.42)], higher levels of transactional sex [aOR (95% CI): 1.63 (1.03, 2.59)], and HSV-2 infection [aOR (95% CI): 1.30 (0.88, 1.91)]. In combination with exposure to alcohol consumption, visits to alcohol outlets were more strongly associated with all four outcomes than with either risk factor alone. Statistical evidence of interaction between alcohol outlet visits and alcohol consumption was observed for all outcomes except transactional sex. Conclusions Frequenting alcohol outlets was associated with increased sexual risk in rural South African young women, especially when they consumed alcohol. Sexual health interventions targeted at alcohol outlets may effectively reach adolescents at high risk for sexually transmitted infections like HIV and HSV-2.
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