Casual Sex on Spring Break: Intentions and Behaviors of Canadian Students
Maticka, -Tyndale, Eleanor, Herold, Edward S., Mewhinney, Dawn, The Journal of Sex Research
Although numerous studies have been conducted on the sexual behavior of young people, there is little research on sexual behavior occurring in specific contexts. One context that has been ignored by researchers is the North American spring break holiday, a one-week break in the school calendar in late February or early March. Approximately one million U.S. students participate in some form of spring break vacation (Josiam, Clements, & Hobson, 1995). Spring break vacations are also popular among Canadians, with thousands of students heading to popular vacation spots (S. Cox, Inter-Campus Programs, personal communication, September, 1995).
Mewhinney, Herold, and Maticka-Tyndale (1995), using focus groups and interviews with Canadian students who had traveled to Florida for spring break, found the key elements of a spring break vacation to include a group holiday with friends traveling and rooming together, a perpetual party atmosphere, high alcohol consumption, sexually suggestive contests and displays, and the perception that casual sex is common. Overall, there is the perception that sexual norms are far more permissive on spring break vacation than at home, providing an atmosphere of greater sexual freedom and the opportunity for engaging in new sexual experiences. Smeaton and Josiam (1996) reported similar findings from their survey of U.S. students on spring break vacation in Panama City Beach, Florida.
The behavior patterns found on spring break have also been found among nonstudent samples of holiday travelers. In their review of the tourism and vacation literature, Herold and van Kerkwijk (1992) identified the characteristics of vacations that were conducive to casual sex activity as a sense of freedom from at-home restrictions, a relaxation of inhibitions, a focus on having a good time, and high alcohol consumption.
We examined factors that might influence university students to engage in coitus with a new partner while on spring break. For the purpose of this paper, we refer to this behavior as casual sex: This was the term used by students in a preliminary study (Mewhinney et al., 1995) to refer to the type of sex engaged in while on spring break. The students portrayed spring break sexual partnerships as initiated rapidly, often within hours of meeting, and as temporary, not lasting beyond the spring break period. Given our focus on new, casual partnerships, we excluded from our analysis those young adults who were sexually active on spring break with a relationship partner from home or with someone whom they had known before spring break.
Triandis's theory of interpersonal behavior (TIB; 1977, 1980, 1994) was selected to guide data collection and analysis because it includes peer influences and situational characteristics in explaining behavior, both of which were identified in preliminary research (Mewhinney et al., 1995) as important influences on spring break sexual activity. The TIB belongs to the school of cognitive models that includes the theory of reasoned action (TRA; Ajzen & Fishbein, 1980) and the theory of planned behavior (TPB; Ajzen, 1985). These theories explain the influence of attitudes and norms on intentions, with these intentions, in turn, directly influencing behaviors. Triandis's model goes beyond the others by examining how factors other than intentions influence behavior, and by more fully specifying the factors that influence intentions. The TIB has proven useful in understanding complex behaviors, particularly those that may be influenced by the social and/or physical environment (e.g., in sexuality research, see Boyd & Wandersman, 1991; Godin, et al., 1996).
Using the framework of the TIB, we predicted that whether a young adult on spring break in Daytona Beach would engage in casual sex would be influenced by an expectation or intention to engage in coitus with a new partner on spring break, prior experience with casual sex, and an environment conducive to new coital partnerships. …