Study Examines Factors That Predict Risky Sexual Behavior in College

There are many contributors to risky sexual behavior among college students throughout the United States. Exposure to drugs and alcohol directly increases the amount of risky sexual activity students engage in, and the college environment provides an opportunity to have sexual encounters with multiple partners, even in a casual context, often without condom use or other forms of contraception. Currently, there is no universal prevention or intervention program designed to address the risky sexual behaviors in this population. Because of this, these students are at heightened risk for sexually transmitted diseases, HIV, and unwanted pregnancies. Research in this area has relied on the theory of planned behavior (TPB) to identify beliefs and attitudes that might predict sexual risk taking. However, the TPB model does not take into consideration other factors that might influence sexual behaviors such as past sexual history, moral beliefs, anticipated affect of behavior, inhibition, and sexual arousal. Jessica A. Turchik of the National Center for PTSD at the VA Palo Alto Health Care System of Stanford University recently conducted a study to assess whether adding these components to the TPB would provide more accurate predictability of sexual risk-taking in college students.

Turchik measured the levels of 1,520 college students’ sexual risk-taking behaviors based on these factors over a 2-month period. She found that students who expected sexual encounters to promote positive feelings, had higher moral beliefs, and were less risky in the past were most likely to engage in safe sexual practices over the 2 months. Specifically, these factors, when combined with the TPB model, were the most indicative of current safe sexual practices. Those who were less likely to believe sexual activity would be a positive experience and those with lower moral standards and risky pasts took more sexual risks during the study time. Additionally, participants who were easily sexually aroused and had less inhibition engaged in more risky behavior. Turchik believes these results could significantly reduce sexual risk-taking on college campuses. She added, “It is hoped that these findings may be used to inform the content and implementation of sexual risk prevention and intervention programming.”

Turchik, J. A., Gidycz, C. A. (2012). Prediction of sexual risk behaviors in college students using the theory of planned behavior: A prospective analysis. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 31.1, 1-27.

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  • Sandra


    March 19th, 2012 at 3:21 PM

    One thing that I always noticed when I was in college was that the girls who had led the most sheltered lives before going away to school were always the ones sleeping around and getting with all sorts of guys for all of the wrong reasons.

    It was like they chose college as the time to let loose and discover everything that they thought that they had been missing out on. And did they ever find trouble!

    Guys know thise gorsl, they follow them like a hawk and make their move. And usually it’s going to be the girls who end up in trouble and getting hurt.

    It showed me that there is something to be said for allowing your kids to have a little freedom wile they are home so they don’t go wild when they are away from you.

  • amy


    March 19th, 2012 at 10:32 PM

    College students are not little children. They have entered college, are into education and should know things. It’s actually surprising that we see this population remain at risk year after year when in fact they are in a better position to use protective methods for themselves and their partners. Having sexual relations with multiple partners is an individual decision based on various factors but they need to know better about protection!

  • matt


    March 21st, 2012 at 7:29 AM

    young blood-they’re always going to be taking risks and are going to be erratic,that’s how they are.but the colleges need to send out a message-a message to all to protect themselves,to protect those around them and maintain a great environment and health for everyone in general.

  • Breanne


    March 21st, 2012 at 11:44 AM

    So who gets to be the unfortunate soul to tell the parents that I’m sorry but because of the things that you have done and your child’s pattern of behavior, your child is sure to engage in some pretty risky sexual behavior when they hit the college campus. That is one message that I don’t want to have to deliver, and I know that there are a lot of parents who just would not want to hear that.

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