Risky Sex: Which College Students are Likely Candidates


Source: University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences
Published: 2015-12-10
Summary: Significant link between instability in lives of college-age young adults and likelihood they will engage in risky sex.


"Young adults experience a lot of instability caused by frequent transitions in their lives. They have probably moved out of their parents' home (and some move back in). They experience changes in residences, roommates, friends, romantic partners, college majors, and employment. They may drop out of college, re-enroll, or transfer to another university. And some experience more transitional instability than others," said Jill Bowers, a U of I researcher in human development and family studies.

The study showed that the more instability college students experienced in their lives, the more likely they were to take sexual risks, she added.

According to Bowers, young adults between the ages of 18 and 25 have increased freedom from parents, are experimenting as a result of their new freedom, and are exploring their romantic identities.

In times of stress, emerging adults may exhaust the physical and emotional resources that buffer them from risky behaviors, lose their ability to think rationally, and engage in risky sexual behavior, she noted.

In the study, risky sex included;

(1) sex with uncommitted partners;

(2) unplanned or casual sex with friends or strangers - without communicating about it first;

(3) impulsive sexual behavior.

The researchers surveyed 398 emerging adults at two U.S. universities, one in the Midwest and one in the Southwest. There were 290 female and 100 male participants (eight didn't indicate their sex), all under the legal drinking age of 21.

The survey asked questions that elicited the frequency of risky sexual behaviors and assessed participants' psychological well-being and motivations for drinking. Psychological distress, such as depression and loneliness, and dysfunctional drinking motivations, including drinking to gain peer acceptance or to ease emotional pain, amplified the association between instability and sexual risk taking. Family communication patterns were also examined, but they did not play a significant role in young adults' propensity to engage in sexual risk taking.

Bowers said that many colleges mandate completion of an online alcohol prevention program before students arrive on campus as freshmen, but she thinks their message misses the mark.

"I'd like to see these programs aim more toward teaching young adults how to manage stress and loneliness, achieve work-life balance, cope with relationship changes, and increase their self-esteem, instead of leaning so heavily on the message 'Don't drink,'" she said.

Because all participants in the study were under 21 years old, there were possible legal consequences for under-age drinkers, she said.

"Yet the study showed that it wasn't the fact that young adults drank, rather it was their dysfunctional reasons for drinking that enhanced the relationship between the instability they were experiencing and their sexual risk taking," she said.

Co-authors of 'The Role of Transitional Instability, Psychological Distress, and Dysfunctional Drinking in Emerging Adults' Involvement in Risky Sex' are Jill R. Bowers of the University of Illinois, Chris Segrin of the University of Arizona, and Nicholas Joyce of the University of Maryland. The article is available online in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. The study was partially funded by the Wickwire Family Foundation.

This information is from our Sexual Diversity Education Information section - Full List Here.

Related Topics





Send us your coming events & LGBT related news stories for publishing on SexualDiversity.org

Student STEM Careers - Building an Inclusive Community of Scholars


Women in Technology Scholarships - 100 IT Scholarships Available


Gender Norms Still Important For Female College Major Choice



In July 2017, President Donald Trump announced, "After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the US Military..."


While non-LGBT students struggle most with school classes, exams, and work, their LGBT peers say the biggest problem they face is unaccepting families.


District of Columbia residents can now choose a gender neutral option of their drivers license.


80% of gay and lesbian youth report severe social isolation and 42% of people who are LGBT report living in an unwelcoming environment.


According to the Williams Institute about 46% of those in same-sex relationships have college degrees. This may not sound particularly surprising until you consider that the number for heterosexual couples is close to 30%.


80% of gay and lesbian youth report severe social isolation and 42% of people who are LGBT report living in an unwelcoming environment.

Survey Results of Sexual Behavior in Germany


Gay Daughter Unmasks Her Coming Out Story


Sexual Pleasure - Women Report Diverse Preferences


Cite This Document