Why are some young adults more likely to engage in risky sexual behaviour?

20 March 2019 - 14:18 By AFP Relaxnews
A new study investigates why some young adults are more likely to have unprotected sexual relations.
A new study investigates why some young adults are more likely to have unprotected sexual relations.
Image: iStock / CatLane

A new study from Canada, published in the Journal of Sex Research, explores why some young adults may be more likely to engage in unprotected sex. 

According to this new study, gender, sexual orientation and the desire to form lasting romantic relationships appear to influence sexual risk-taking among young adults. The research findings could help to explain why certain young people engage in unprotected sex despite being aware of the risks of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), HIV, cervical cancer and unplanned pregnancy.

The researchers studied 157 heterosexual men, 177 heterosexual women and 106 gay, bisexual or other men who have sex with men (MSM), all between the ages of 18 and 25. Participants were asked to consider a scenario outlining a hypothetical encounter with a new sexual and/or romantic partner. They were then asked to evaluate their attitudes to the situation and their likelihood of following particular courses of action, as well as their relationship motivation. 

The results showed that the three groups all preferred different negotiation tactics when it comes to condom decision-making. Heterosexual men were most likely to agree to unprotected sex, favouring more passive strategies, while women tended to be more assertive, using tactics such as withholding sex.

The MSM group tended to be more open to discussion, opting for balance with more verbal strategies than heterosexual men, while also selecting not-confrontational tactics.

TOWARDS IMPROVING EDUCATION AND PREVENTION

The study also suggests that heterosexual women may be more willing to take risks when relationship motivation is stronger and partners are viewed as having greater relationship potential.

"Understanding what factors make it more difficult to recognise risk during a sexual encounter, such as the desire for a long-term romantic relationship and partner familiarity, can lead to better prevention," says Dr. Shayna Skakoon-Sparling from the University of Guelph, Canada, who led the research.

It is, however, important to bear in mind that this is an observational study, and that no firm conclusions can be drawn about cause and effect. The authors highlight several limitations to the study, including the research not including women who have sex with women, or any other gender/sexuality minority groups. 


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