The relationship between vaginal ring use and intimate partner violence and social harms: formative research outcomes from the CHARISMA study in Johannesburg, South Africa
Despite being designed for autonomous use, research suggests partner approval is often necessary in women's microbicide use. Microbicide study participants have described many ways product use affects relationships, from improving sexual pleasure to increasing harm, including exacerbating intimate partner violence (IPV). As the dapivirine ring proceeds closer to licensure, supporting women's agency to use microbicides safely is a priority. We conducted 42 in-depth interviews with former participants of the Microbicide Trials Network (MTN)-020 trial of the dapivirine vaginal ring and their male partners in Johannesburg, South Africa, to explore how ring use and partnership dynamics interacted. We sampled women who reported harms or partner non-support and women with supportive partners. Male and female narratives revealed high background levels of IPV. Women described how study participation/ring use exacerbated violence, and for a few couples served as a rationale for additional abuse. In response, women described feeling powerless and fearful of conflict, resulting in product nonuse. For one participant violence was reduced, and for several others, empowerment was sparked. These findings suggest future providers have the opportunity to shift more women from a place of fear/violence to one of safety/empowerment through the integration of IPV screening and relationship counselling.