Self-Regulation and Sexual Risk Taking: Exploring Factors Influencing Sexual Health Behaviour

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Jessome, Stefani MacNeill
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Mount Saint Vincent University
Research has illustrated that much remains unknown about why young people choose to engage in risky sex behaviours but has demonstrated that the acquisition of sexual-health knowledge, in isolation, has been limited in influence. This study was designed with the goal of gaining additional insight into the processes and mechanisms that complement or hinder the efficacy of knowledge-only approaches within a Social Cognitive Theory framework. Archival data from 4,177 female undergraduates, drawn from a consortium of universities across Maritime Canada, were analyzed to assess differences between “cautious” and “risky” groups on a number of constructs. Two measures of peer norms were utilized as moderators in binomial logistic regression models. Contrary to prediction, higher levels of knowledge were associated with greater sexual risk taking and social support failed to predict group membership. Greater levels of negative affect were, as hypothesized, related to membership in the risky group but predictive power was attenuated in those reporting peer norms that supported recreational sex and less concern about safer sex. Overall, findings provide further support that knowledge-only approaches are, at best, of limited effectiveness in reducing risky sexual behavior and that a need remains to further explore individual differences should we wish to gain greater insight. In considering those individual differences, these findings suggest that one’s perception of the values of peers may eclipse more traditionally measured psychological variables. Stated differently, those who provide professional services to youth at risk may want to consider interpersonal factors as more important than the intrapersonal context.
Sexual risk taking, sexual health, sexual health knowledge