Sexual risk behaviors in college women: perceived norms, attitudes, and sexual motives

ECU Author/Contributor (non-ECU co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Kelly Rudolph (Creator)
East Carolina University (ECU )
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Abstract: One important developmental task of young adulthood is the formation of romantic partnerships and initiation of sexual relationships. Unfortunately, in navigating these key developmental tasks, college students may engage in sexual risk behaviors which could lead to negative physical, psychological, and social consequences. Prior research has shown that a substantial number of college women are participating in sexual risk behaviors, such as having one time sexual encounters, inconsistently using condoms, having multiple sequential and simultaneous sexual partners, and drinking heavily before sex. Despite this, only limited research has examined factors that predict and contribute to these sexual risk behaviors. Such work is necessary to develop programs to promote healthy sexual development and expression among college women. Prior research has supported the utility of the contingent consistency peer influence model (CCPIM) in predicting risky drinking among college women. This model posits that that perceived peer norms, actual peer norms, and personal attitudes are independent and key influences on adolescents and young adults' risky behavior. Additionally, prior work has supported the role of certain drinking motives in promoting risky drinking among college students. Similarly, a link between some sexual motives and sexual risk behavior has been established as well. Prior research has supported that certain sexual motives, such as coping and affirmation, predict engagement in sexual risk behaviors. The applicability of the CCPIM with the addition of sexual motives in predicting sexual risk behaviors has not previously been studied together, however. This thesis sought to evaluate the utility of the CCPIM in predicting sexual risk behaviors among college women. Further, the influence of two sexual motives: coping and affirmation, on risky sexual behavior were also examined. To accomplish these aims, 400 sexually active undergraduate women (mean age 18.5 years), were recruited through the ECU Psychology department participant management system to complete an online survey that assessed sexual risk behaviors, drinking behaviors, sexual attitudes, sexual motives, and perceived peer norms for sexual behaviors. Results supported that college women's perceived peer norms as well as coping and affirmation sexual motives significantly predicted sexual risk behaviors, while positive personal attitudes toward sex predicted less engagement in these behaviors. Implications of the findings include the importance both of college women's perception of peer norms for sexual risk behavior and their personal sexual motives as well as the potential protective role of holding positive attitudes toward sex. This highlights that for college women, the strongest component of the CCPIM is perception of peer norms, regardless of actual peer norms, and also highlights the role of sexual motives in sexual risk behaviors. This research suggests that norm corrective interventions could possibly be part of an effective intervention program to reduce college women's engagement in sexual risk behaviors. Further, for some women, sexual risk behaviors may be a result of maladaptive coping strategies and/or used as a means to boost self-esteem or desirability, supporting the potential importance of interventions addressing psychological distress and low self-esteem in also potentially addressing sexual risk. Additionally, future research should focus on expanding these findings to more diverse populations as well as the likely bidirectional relationships between perceived peer norms and risk behavior over time.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2016
women's health
Sexual health; Risk-taking (Psychology); Women college students--Sexual behavior

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