Which factors make young people more likely to have unsafe sex?
Given the risks that come with unprotected sex such as sexually transmitted diseases and unplanned pregnancy, researchers from the University of Guelph in Canada set out to examine why young adults to engage in unprotected sex.
The study is the first of its kind to study and compare how heterosexual men, heterosexual women, and men who have sex with men (MSM) negotiate condom use and the different methods that men and women use to practice safe sex or have unprotected sex.
Published in the Journal of Sex Research, the study could help shed light on why people choose not to use condoms despite the well-established and known risks.
The researchers used Amazon’s Mechanical Turk System to survey 106 men who have sex with men, 157 heterosexual men, and 177 heterosexual women, all aged between 18 and 25 years, about their attitudes towards unprotected sex.
With Amazon, the participants were given a scenario about a hypothetical new sexual partner. The participants had to choose how they would proceed in the situation and if they were looking for a relationship.
Answers varied depending on each participant’s sexual preferences, and the researchers found that heterosexual men were most likely to agree to have sex without a condom.
Heterosexual women, on the other hand, were more likely to be assertive and withhold sex unless their partner wore a condom.
Men who have sex with men were more verbal and non-confrontational in their negotiations, choosing balance overall.
The researchers also found that relationship expectations factored into an individual’s decision to engage in unprotected sex. For example, heterosexual women in the study seemed more likely to have unprotected sex if they felt their partner had a lot of relationship potential.
“Understanding what factors make it more difficult to recognize risk during a sexual encounter, such as the desire for a long-term romantic relationship and partner familiarity, can lead to better prevention,” said Dr. Shayna Skakoon-Sparling, the leader of the research. “It is particularly striking that women had lower expectations that their partner would be interested in condom use–this highlights how challenging heterosexual women expect the negotiation of condom use to be.”
It’s important to note that the study excluded women who have sex with women and didn’t factor in gender fluid individuals or other sexual minority groups and so the results may differ in future studies.
However, the study is an important step in investigating the motivations and decision making processes that go into sexual risk-taking behaviors for young adults.