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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