Risky Sex Behaviors among African American College Students: The Influence of Alcohol, Marijuana, and Religiosity

Article excerpt

Young adults represent one of the fastest growing groups of new HIV infections in the United States (Labrie, Schiffman, & Earleywine, 2002). Recent data suggest that African Americans represent approximately 74% of heterosexual diagnoses of HIV (CDC, 2004). Rates of newly reported HIV infections in North Carolina were higher in black men in all age groups compared with white men overall (CDC, 2004). The CDC's (2004) data showed that between 1998 and 2002 there was a statistically significant increase in HIV infections among black men between the ages of 18-24. This considerable increase ranged from 65 per 100,000 population in 1998 to 92 per 100,000 in 2002. Based upon results of a blind study conducted at 19 American universities, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has estimated that 1 in 500 college students are infected with HIV.

A critical question about HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) among African-American college students is: What influence do alcohol and marijuana consumption have on their willingness to engage in risky sex behaviors; and thereby, increasing students' chances of contracting HIV or other STDs? Tantamount to this question is: What influence does religion have on students' decision-making about consuming alcohol and/or marijuana and engaging in risky sex behaviors? Consistent with research conducted by Cooper (2002), risky sexual behaviors are defined as those sexual behaviors that increase the likelihood of negative outcomes associated with such sexual conduct. This definition of STD's includes, but is not limited to, HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases such as gonorrhea and syphilis. For the purpose of the present study, risky sex behaviors refer to high frequency of sexual behavior, high frequency of unprotected sex while sober, high frequency of unprotected sex while intoxicated, high frequency of giving and/or receiving oral sex, high number of sex partners in the past year, and frequent exploring of non-traditional sexual behaviors.

The present study was designed with three major purposes in mind. First, we sought to estimate the incidence of risky sex behaviors, in relation to alcohol and/or marijuana consumption, within a predominantly African-American college student population. Second, understanding that a number of factors in addition to alcohol and/or marijuana may increase or decrease a student's willingness to engage in risky sex behaviors, we elected to examine how self-professed religiosity influenced African-American students' use of alcohol and/or marijuana and their engagement in risky sexual activity. Third, we sought to examine the interrelationship among alcohol and/or marijuana consumption, religiosity and risky sex behaviors in this same college student population.

A number of studies (e.g., Abbey, 2002; Engs, 1977; Carlucci, Genova, Rubackin, & Kayson 1993; Cooper, 2002; Desiderato & Crawford, 1995; Leigh & Stall, 1993; Poulson, Eppler, Satterwhite, Wuensch, & Bass, 1998; Taylor & Fulop, 1999; Wechsler, & Wuethrich, 2002) have examined the relationship between alcohol consumption and risky sex behaviors among college students. The general findings of these studies suggest that alcohol consumption plays a key role in influencing risky sex behaviors (Cooper, 2002; Leigh & Stall, 1993; Poulson, et al., 1998). For example, Taylor and Fulop's (1999) study shows how alcohol may be used among college students to facilitate their sexual experiences. Cooper's (2002) study supports the previous findings (e.g., Taylor & Fulop, 1999) by revealing that almost fifty percent of participants stated, they may increase their amount of alcohol consumption in order to make it easier to have sex and also increase the likelihood that their partner would agree to the act.

Other research (i.e., Graves, 1995; Poulson et al., 1998; Sanchez, Comerford, Chitwood, Fernandez & McCoy, 2002) indicated that those who consume alcohol may have more sexual partners than students who do not consume alcohol. …