For British, Spanish and German tourists in Majorca and Ibiza—who represent the majority of visitors to the two islands—having risky sex with a new partner while on vacation is common.1 According to a study conducted in 2007, 34% of vacationers traveling without a sexual partner in the Balearic Islands had sex during vacation. Among tourists traveling without a partner, having sex on vacation was associated with stays of longer than one week (odds ratios, 1.5–4.2), frequent drunkenness while on vacation (2.5) and multiple sexual partners in the previous 12 months (2.1–14.2). The odds of engaging in sex without a condom during vacation were greater among those who were traveling with companions of the opposite sex than among those who were not (1.7), and among those who used four or more illegal drugs while on vacation than among those who used none (2.8).

At the Majorca and Ibiza airports, researchers from the United Kingdom, Spain and Germany approached individuals who were traveling without relatives or dependents, were aged 16–35 and were returning home to these countries. Participants were asked to complete a short questionnaire and to return it in a sealed envelope. The survey included questions on demographic characteristics, sexual activity during vacation, and potentially related behaviors and attitudes. The final sample consisted of 3,003 respondents (1,033 British, 984 German and 986 Spanish participants). Analysis of variance and chi-square tests were used to explore differences among subgroups. Logistic regression was used to identify characteristics associated with risky sexual behaviors.

In Ibiza, the largest proportion of participants were aged 16–19 (42%); in Majorca, the largest proportion were 20–25 (48%). In both locations, most tourists were attracted by the nightlife and the weather. Three in 10 visitors to each island were traveling with their sexual partner; however, one-half of those visiting from Spain were doing so. In Ibiza, 18% of tourists were traveling with members of the opposite sex; in Majorca, 27% were doing so. Overall, most tourists reported using alcohol while on vacation (95–96%). Illegal drugs were used more often in Ibiza than Majorca; Germans used these drugs least often. Frequent drunkenness while on vacation (five or more days per week) was reported by 37% of tourists in Ibiza and by 33% in Majorca, but substantially more often by British and German visitors than by Spanish visitors. Men reported visiting bars and nightclubs and being drunk more frequently than women, and reported greater use of illegal drugs and alcohol.

Overall, 34% of respondents traveling without a sexual partner reported having sex while on vacation; the proportion was higher in Majorca than in Ibiza (36% vs. 32%). In both locations, Spanish tourists were more likely than British or German tourists to report having sex on vacation (53–60% vs. 38–44% and 47–48%), but German tourists were the most likely to report five or more partners (in Majorca, 12%, compared with 7–8% of British and Spanish tourists). German visitors in Majorca were also the most likely to have sex without a condom. British tourists were more likely to have sex, and Spanish tourists were more likely to have unprotected sex, in Ibiza than in Majorca. Overall, single males in both locations reported higher levels of risky sexual behavior than single females.

The odds of having sex while on vacation were significantly higher for Spanish and German tourists in Majorca and Ibiza than for British tourists in Majorca (odds ratios, 1.8–2.6), higher for those who vacationed for more than a week than for those reporting shorter visits (1.5–4.2) and higher for those reporting frequent drunkenness while on vacation than for those who did not get drunk at all (2.5). In addition, as the number of sexual partners in the previous 12 months increased, so did the odds of having sex on vacation (2.1–14.2). The odds of having sex during vacation were lower for British tourists in Ibiza than in Majorca (0.6), and lower for individuals who chose their vacation spot because of its weather than for those who were drawn by other features (0.8). Among single respondents who reported having sex while on vacation, males were more likely than females, individuals aged 16–19 were more likely than those older than 25, and individuals reporting five or more partners in the previous year were more likely than those reporting none to report multiple partners (2.2, 2.6 and 5.1, respectively). Unprotected sex with a new partner during vacation was associated with traveling with companions of the opposite sex (1.7) and using four or more drugs while on vacation (2.8).

Single tourists who had sex while on vacation were more likely than those who did not to prefer bars and nightclubs where there are opportunities for sex (61% vs. 34%) and where people get drunk (35% vs. 22%); those who had multiple sexual partners on vacation were more likely than those reporting only one to cite these preferences. Compared with those who had sex with condoms, those who did not were more likely to prefer bars and nightclubs where people get drunk (6% vs. 13%). While visiting a bar or nightclub during their vacation, single tourists who had sex were more likely than those who did not to witness drug use, arguments, fighting, acts of vandalism and sexual activity. Similar differences were found between those reporting multiple new partners during vacation and those reporting only one. Compared with those reporting sex with condoms during vacation, those reporting unprotected sex were more likely to witness drug use.

The researchers acknowledge that the study has some limitations: It used a convenience sample, and the sample may be biased because participants were limited to those traveling by air. Although previous studies have demonstrated sexual risk-taking among tourists in Ibiza, this study is the first to show even higher levels of this activity in Majorca. Given how common this risk-taking is, and its apparent associations with substance use, the researchers suggest that targeting nighttime venues with public health messages may be useful.—L. Melhado