Self-Reported Alcohol Consumption and Sexual Behavior in Males and Females: Using the Unmatched-Count Technique to Examine Reporting Practices of Socially Sensitive Subjects in a Sample of University Students

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ABSTRACT

This work, drawing on the literature on alcohol consumption, sexual behavior, and researching sensitive topics, tests the efficacy of the unmatched-count technique (UCT) in establishing higher rates of truthful self-reporting when compared to traditional survey techniques. Traditional techniques grossly underestimate the scope of problems when questions asked are socially sensitive (LaBrie & Earleywine, 2000). The study employed a large student sample from a Midwestern University, in which randomly assigned students completed either a traditional or UCT self-report survey. Using a difference of proportion test, results suggest the UCT method is more effective in eliciting affirmative responses to sensitive questions. Gender effects were identified. Both males' and females' responses challenge cultural stereo-types of perpetration and victimization. The work addresses several shortcomings in the literature, contributes to the emergent empirical research employing the UCT, and casts a critical eye on prevailing base rates. Policy implications and avenues f or future research are discussed.

Keywords. Alcohol consumption, sexual behavior, unmatched-count technique, base rates

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Concern for excessive alcohol consumption and its relationship to sexual behavior on college and university campuses throughout the United States has provided the impetus for decades of empirical research exploring prevalence rates, prevention techniques, and awareness through education. Work to date has been vast and varied though particular emphasis has been on the consequences of binge drinking, also known as heavy episodic (HE) drinking, and its influence on poor sexual decision making, including risky sexual practices, use of force, coercion, and sexual victimization (see Abbey, Clinton-Sherrod, McAulsen, Zawacki, & Buck, 2003; Carr & VanDeusen, 2004; Desiderato & Crawford, 1995).

The vast majority of prior works has relied heavily, if not exclusively, on student based samples and traditional self-report questionnaires to assess sensitive subjects, many of which have been administered in large lecture based classrooms or similar settings. This dynamic creates a potential shortcoming in the empirical work--socially desirable responding by participants which can impact the overall validity of survey results and hinder accurate interpretation.

The present work compares results of the traditional self-report survey technique and an alternative approach, the unmatched count technique (UCT), in an effort to test the efficacy of the UCT as a preferred means of collecting base rate or aggregate level data on the sensitive subjects of excessive alcohol consumption and it's negative effect on sexual decision making, including risk taking behavior, perpetration, and victimization.

A BRIEF REVIEW OF THE ALCOHOL CONSUMPTION AND SEXUAL RELATIONS LITERATURE

For most college students, alcohol consumption and experimentation is an accepted reality of the college experience leading to unintended and unanticipated consequences. The Harvard School of Public Health's College Alcohol Study (CAS), the largest study in the U.S. with a nationally representative sample of 140 four-year colleges and more than 17,000 student participants across multiple waves of data, has consistently found that more than 40 percent of U.S. college students qualify as "binge" drinkers (Wechsler et al., 2002; Wechsler, Lee, Kuo, & Lee, 2000). Excessive alcohol consumption has been implicated in educational difficulties, psychological problems, antisocial behaviors, and, especially, high-risk sexual behavior.

Sexual Behavior

Sexual experimentation in college, similar to alcohol consumption, is a rite-of-passage for most college students with many learning through their newfound autonomy and self-governance how to, for the first time, manage their sexual relationships and their sexuality (Cooper, 2002, p. …