Objective While gel-formulated rectal microbicides (RM) are the first to enter clinical trials, rectal douching in preparation for anal intercourse is a common practice; thus RMs formulated as douches may be a convenient alternative to gels. Nonetheless, little is known about potential users’ thoughts regarding douche-formulated RMs or rectal douching practices, data that is needed to inform the advancement of douche-based RMs. This qualitative study examined thoughts regarding douches, their use as an RM and current douching practices among men who have sex with men and transgender women.
Methods 12 focus groups and 36 in-depth interviews were conducted (N=140) to examine the overall acceptability of RM, of which one component focused on rectal douching. Focus groups and interviews were recorded, transcribed verbatim and coded; text relating to rectal douching was extracted and analysed. Sociodemographic information was collected using a self-administered questionnaire.
Results Support for a douche-formulated RM centred on the possibility of combined precoital hygiene and HIV protection, and it was believed that a deeply penetrating liquid douche would confer greater HIV protection than a gel. Drawbacks included rectal dryness, impracticality and portability issues, and potential side effects. Non-commercial douching apparatus use was common and liquids used included detergents, vinegar, bleach, lemon juice and alcohol.
Conclusions A douche-formulated RM, while desirable and perceived as more effective than a gel-formulated RM, also generated questions regarding practicality and side effects. Of immediate concern were the non-commercial liquids already being used that likely damage rectal epithelia, potentially increasing HIV infection risk. Precoital rectal douching is common and an RM formulated as such is desirable, but education on rectal douching practices is needed now.
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