What Constitutes Sexual Risk Among College Students?

Quynn Morehouse (2010)

How do college students conceptualize sexual risk? And, how does one's construction of sexual risk relate to one's likelihood to engage in sexual behaviors in various relationship contexts. Results of previous research yield inconclusive findings. The present study is based on the tenants of social constructionism, which posits that everyone constructs their own meaning and knowledge about the things in their world as they engage with the world. However, all too often when we talk about sex or sexual risk we do not look for multiple meanings, but rather assume that we all share the same meaning or knowledge. Ninety-three participants, 55.9% female and 43.1% male, filled out The Sexual Definition Survey-Expanded survey which assessed what 18 sexual behaviors were constituted as having sex, the extent to which these behaviors were risky, and the likelihood that they would engage in these behaviors. These relationships were examined across six different relationship contexts. It was found that riskiness and likelihood varied by relationship context, and as perceived risk increased likelihood to engage in sexual behaviors decreased. Students perceived that vaginal and anal intercourse were the most risky behaviors followed by oral intercourse. Consistent with the negative relationship between riskiness and likelihood, students were the least likely to engage in vaginal and anal intercourse. Constructions of sex were consistent with previous literature where 95% of students included vaginal intercourse and 90% of students included anal intercourse into their constructions of sex. Also consistent with previous literature, students were less likely to include oral intercourse into their constructions of having sex.