Changes in Undergraduates’ Sexual Risk-Taking as They Progress through College

Jonathan M. Bearak, New York University (NYU)

The college experience involves more than just getting an education. While research has shown that students engage in sexual behaviors, we still know little about the evolution of sexual risk-taking among college students. Using data from a survey of about twenty thousand undergraduates, this study provides evidence of undergraduates’ changing propensity during college to engage in casual non-exclusive sex, as well as changes in their likelihood of using condoms during such encounters. The findings suggest a rapid progression of engagement in casual sex as students advance through college, with seniors engaging in the most non-exclusive sex and freshmen engaging in the least. More importantly, students become less likely to use a condom after freshman year, indicating a more rapid normalization of unprotected sex when casual intercourse occurs. This latter finding is not only surprising, but has serious health implications for colleges and universities nationwide.

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Presented in Session 201: Adolescent Sexual Behavior, Risk-Taking and Health