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Sex Transm Dis. 2011 Jan;38(1):43-7. doi: 10.1097/OLQ.0b013e3181e969d0.

Dissolution of primary intimate relationships during incarceration and associations with post-release STI/HIV risk behavior in a Southeastern city.

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Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, School of Public Health, University of Maryland, College Park, MD 20742, USA.



Incarceration is associated with sexually transmitted infections (STIs) including human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). It may contribute to STI/HIV by disrupting primary intimate relationships that protect against high-risk partnerships.


In an urban sample of men (N = 229) and women (N = 144) in North Carolina, we assessed how often respondents experienced the dissolution of a primary intimate relationship at the time of their own (among men) or their partner's (among women) incarceration. We then measured the association between dissolution of relationships during incarceration and STI/HIV-related risk behaviors.


Among men who had ever been incarcerated for 1 month or longer (N = 72), 43% (N = 31) had a marital or nonmarital primary partner at the time of the longest prior sentence. Among women, 22% (N = 31) had ever had a primary partner who had been incarcerated for 1 month or longer. Of men and women who were in a relationship at the time of a prior incarceration of 1 month or longer (N = 62), more than 40% of men and 30% of women reported that the relationship ended during the incarceration. In analyses adjusting for sociodemographic characteristics and crack/cocaine use, loss of a partner during incarceration was associated with nearly 3 times the prevalence of having 2 or more new partners in the 4 weeks before the survey (prevalence ratio: 2.80, 95% confidence interval: 1.13-6.96).


In this sample, incarceration disrupted substantial proportions of primary relationships and dissolution of those relationships was associated with subsequent STI/HIV risk. The results highlight the need for further research to investigate the effects of incarceration on relationships and health.

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