The study of adult sexual behavior has many important implications. Understanding what predicts certain sexual patterns, such as promiscuity and unprotected sex, can lead to methods to prevent these behaviors. Sexual habits are at the foundation of many social concerns, such as HIV/AIDS, sexually transmitted diseases, abortion, sexual abuse, and intimate partner violence. However, collecting data that accurately reflects people’s behaviors is difficult. In research settings, individuals are interviewed, either in person or remotely, and asked about their sexual behaviors. But despite the best attempts by researchers to obtain authentic answers, results can be biased. People are naturally inclined to give socially desirable answers, even if they are less than truthful. This presents a large problem for professionals because without valid data, they cannot effectively determine cause and effect and develop interventions to decrease negative outcomes.
Martijn G. De Jong, of the Erasmus School of Economics at Erasmus University Rotterdam in the Netherlands, recently tested a new method for surveying sensitive behaviors called the Multigroup Item Randomized Response Theory (MIRRT). De Jong and his colleagues sought to accomplish several goals with this method. First, they wanted to gather accurate data on highly sensitive topics. They also wanted to ensure anonymity, maintain professional integrity, and still be able to disseminate truthful and nontruthful answers. In two separate studies, De Jong evaluated the sexual attitudes and promiscuity of more than 7,000 individuals from more than 15 countries, including the United States. He assessed the data based on personality factors, age, sex, and ethnic origin.
The results revealed that extroverts were not more likely to engage in sexual risk taking than introverts. This finding is in contrast with other research, and although additional results emerged that were highly informative, this particular finding suggests that the MIRRT may allow those who would normally be motivated to answer in conforming ways to actually respond to questions more honestly and without socially desirable bias. De Jong believes that application of the MIRRT, which is easy and cost effective, may be able to help researchers gather more truthful information pertaining to other sensitive behaviors and issues including sexual dysfunction, domestic violence, drug and alcohol use, shame, and even disability and deformity. “Taken together, the present results show the potential of MIRRT and call for more research on adult sexual attitudes and behaviors in different sociocultural environments,” he added.
De Jong, Martijn G., Rik Pieters, and Stefan Stremersch. Analysis of sensitive questions across cultures: An application of multigroup item randomized response theory to sexual attitudes and behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology103.3 (2012): 543-64. Print.
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