(WOMENSENEWS)–Casual sex on vacation is common, and as the holiday season approaches, many people are planning trips away from home, seeking respite from the tensions of the post-Sept. 11 world.

Research by members of the International Society for Travel Medicine in recent years shows that even discounting the sex tourism trade, in which tour companies organize trips solely for sex, people who are quite careful at home may indulge in casual sex when they go away, especially to another country.

The physician Hans Lobel, a malaria specialist at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, when asked by a group of writers to summarize a lifetime of advice, summed it up: “Buckle your seatbelt and don’t forget your condoms.”

Dr. Lobel’s condom advice is frequently ignored–and too often by women.

Some psychologists say women are unwilling to acknowledge their subconscious plans by packing contraceptive materials, especially if they are in a long-term relationship at home. Others are vulnerable to the ordinary seductiveness of foreign territory, warm breezes and chilled wine. Whatever the reason, last-minute protection is critical.

Easy access to protection from sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancy is becoming increasingly urgent as women’s reproductive freedom–from abortions to access to prescription contraceptives–remains intensely controversial.

Planned Parenthood says that when used correctly, condoms are approximately 99 percent effective in protecting against HIV and AIDS, about 98 percent effective in preventing pregnancy.

Easy Accessibility of Condoms Dramatically Increases Use

According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, citing a 1998 study, the way in which condoms are made available has a great impact on whether they are purchased and used. For instance, when a drug treatment center provided condoms in the waiting room and in the bathroom, 381 percent more were taken from the bathroom.

In fact, women are being encouraged more and more by public health agencies to demand that their partners use protection. This education effort becomes increasingly urgent as the number of women infected with HIV-AIDS increases. The National Institute on Aging reports that during a recent five-year period, the number of new AIDS cases in women 50 and over increased by 40 percent.

The Journal of the American Medical Association also has reported that condom use for disease prevention appears most common among young women, never-married women, those with the highest incomes, women early in their reproductive lives, women not surgically sterilized, those not using oral contraceptives and women who had intercourse infrequently.

Some of the smarter hotels are getting this message and are including condoms in their amenities offered to guests.

The House of Blues Hotel in Chicago, a hip new place to stay near the House of Blues itself, not to mention the Magnificent Mile and Smith and Wollensky’s, stocks its minibar with the usual chocolates and Chardonnays. However, it also contains an “intimacy kit.” Priced at $7–more than a toothbrush and less than a harmonica–it consists of two condoms, a packet of lubricant and two moist naps. And it is there, right in the room, eliminating the need, as a spokeswoman for the House of Blues said, to get into the elevator in bare feet to visit a vending machine.

The kit, like the rest of that minibar’s contents, was provided by a company called In Room Plus, based in Buffalo, N.Y. Wanda Jones, president of In Room Plus, said that the intimacy kit had been on the market about four years and had steadily become a top seller in the company’s line, which is bought by 475 hotels. She said that hotels usually priced it at $7 to $10, although it has been sold for $4 or $5.

The hotel can put its logo on the package or can sell it as a generic. The high-priced and trendy W Hotels of the Starwood company all stock these kits, Jones said. K.C. Kavanagh, a spokeswoman for Starwood, said that the company put the W logo on the intimacy kits in the “monkey boxes,” as the company calls its minibars.

Club Med Says Candor and Simplicity About Safer Sex Are Critical

Jones said the shelf life of a condom is two to two and a half years, and that the turnover was brisk so that there has been no problem with dated kits. In Room Plus has a Web site, where this kit and other products can be seen.

Another place attentive to the unflustered approach to sexual hazards is Club Med. Although Club Med, 50 years in the vacation business, now has clubs where the baby boomers of yore can take their kids, it continues to sell an inviting environment for romance and sex.

Club Turkoise in the Turks and Caicos Islands in the Bahamas gave detailed information in its arrival briefing on the 24-hour availability of condoms: in the shop during regular hours, at the nurses’ station when the shop was shut and through an emergency phone after that.

Edwina Arnold, long-time spokeswoman for Club Med, said candor and simplicity on the subject of safer sex will remain part of Club Med’s policy.

Betsy Wade wrote the Practical Traveler column in The New York Times from 1987 to 2001.