Academic journal article
By Vasilenko, Sara A.; Lefkowitz, Eva S.; Maggs, Jennifer L.
The Journal of Sex Research , Vol. 49, No. 6
Although much of the research on emerging adult sexuality has focused on prevention of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and unwanted pregnancy, sexual behavior can have broader implications for well-being. Since its inception, the World Health Organization (1946) has defined health as involving physical, mental, and social well-being, and consequences of sex may play a role in each of these three dimensions. Although research on sexual behavior has focused on physical well-being, mental and social well-being may also be affected. Research has shown that early (prior to age 16) sexual behavior in adolescence is associated with depression under some circumstances (Meier, 2007; Spriggs & Halpern, 2008), and individuals' perceptions of the intrapersonal consequences of sex (such as satisfaction or guilt) may explain the process by which sexual behavior is associated with mental health. In addition, sexual behavior has consequences for social well-being, particularly relationships with sexual partners; perceived interpersonal consequences of sex (such as feeling close to or pressured into sexual behavior by a partner) could promote or impede the establishment of intimacy, which is an important component of healthy sexual relationships (Firestone, Firestone, & Catlett, 2006). Thus, in this article, we examined emerging adults' perceived short-term consequences of sex, focusing on intrapersonal and interpersonal consequences.
Although the majority of emerging adults (age 18-25; Arnett, 2000) have engaged in sexual intercourse, little is known about the consequences of sex they experience, other than STIs and pregnancy. Research on adolescents' perceived consequences of sex has focused on intrapersonal consequences of first intercourse, particularly the negative consequences for adolescent girls (Higgins, Trussell, Moore, & Davidson, 2010; Sprecher, Barbee, & Schwartz, 1995). In contrast, research with adults has focused on how sexual behavior within marriage is associated with positive interpersonal consequences, such as relationship satisfaction (Edwards & Booth, 1994). However, little research has examined subjective experiences of sex in emerging adulthood--a period that may be important for sexual development. Emerging adults, particularly those who are transitioning to college, experience increased freedom from parental oversight and increased time in mixed-sex settings, which can provide opportunities for exploration and experimentation with sexual behavior (Arnett, 2000; Lefkowitz, 2005). In addition, emerging adults' sexual behavior may be influenced by exploration in other domains, such as in romantic relationships (Lefkowitz, 2005). Emerging adults may engage in sexual behavior in a variety of relationships, including close dating relationships and with casual or non-dating partners. Thus, it is important to understand the subjective experience of sexual behavior in emerging adulthood, as well as factors, such as relationship with a partner, that may be associated with more positive or negative outcomes.
In this article, we examined the short-term perceived consequences of sex reported by first-year college students on days they engaged in vaginal sex, as well as what situational factors of the sexual experience were associated with more positive or negative consequences.
Short-Term Consequences of Sex
Many of the studies on the consequences of sex for adolescents or emerging adults have focused on consequences of first sexual intercourse, with fewer investigations of later occurrences of sexual behavior. These studies have often found gender differences, with women reporting less positive experiences than men. However, diary and experience sampling studies of clinical samples of adolescents have found that occurrences of sex after first intercourse are associated with more positive affect or less negative affect in both male and female adolescents (Fortenberry et al. …