“We hope to make women more resilient, take control of their sexual health, and empower them to use contraception,” said Deborah Nelson, associate professor at Temple’s College of Public Health.
Nelson and her research team are focused on Philadelphia’s rate of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) – which is four times higher than the national rate. Working with a local Planned Parenthood office, Nelson led a study to examine factors affecting inconsistent condom usage among Planned Parenthood clients with the aim of helping women reduce STI recidivism rates.
Nelson and her team conducted focus groups that monitored single men and women and people in exclusive relationships. “We screened those who came back with STI symptoms within one year. They might not have had another STI, but we knew that they were still practicing unsafe sex if they thought that it was a possibility.”
In the focus groups, people were asked what they thought were the barriers to consistent condom usage. Among men, the longer the relationship, the less comfortable they felt wearing a condom. If their long-term female partner asked them to use a condom, they believed that meant she was no longer being exclusive with them. Women who said they didn’t trust their partner were also less likely to suggest condom use. Consistent with previous research, women who lack confidence were unable to discuss contraception with their partners.
“We’re still analyzing the Planned Parenthood findings,” said Nelson. “We now know that communication is a component that needs to be addressed when women are discussing contraception with their healthcare provider and their sexual partner. We need to ask how comfortable a woman is when talking to her partner about condoms, and if a woman isn’t comfortable then we need to discuss what kind of contraception she should be using.”
Prior to this study, Nelson conducted the Young Women’s Health Study (YWHS) in Philadelphia to find a correlation between women’s psychological and emotional history, attitudes towards contraception, and unintended pregnancy. In 2012, she received funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to explore how a woman’s experience with violence and depressive symptoms can affect her ability to negotiate regular birth control usage.
At Temple, Nelson is part of an active faculty that works with community partners and local providers. “Our students have the opportunity to participate in research that will help solve real-world issues relevant to our community-based research. They can help make a difference and improve health conditions that impact long-term issues, as well as moderate factors that could lead to immediate change for the greater good in our local community,” Nelson said.