Sexual Values of College Students

By Knox, David; Cooper, Chris et al. | College Student Journal, March 2001 | Go to article overview
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Sexual Values of College Students

Knox, David, Cooper, Chris, Zusman, Marty E., College Student Journal

Six-hundred-twenty never married undergraduates at a large southeastern university identified the sexual values which guide their behavior in sexual decision making. Both women and men were more relativistic than absolutist or hedonistic. However, men were six times more hedonistic than women. Other factors significantly associated with hedonism included being over age 20, uninvolved in a relationship, being open to living together, and feeling that divorce was justifiable. Implications for university faculty, therapists, and students are suggested.

The propriety of sexual behavior permeates our society. Individuals in the Presidency (Clinton), military (Sergeant Major Gene McKinney), and sports casting (Marv Albert/Frank Gifford) have been the focus of media attention. The result has been a reawakening and introspection in regard to one's own sexual values. Previous researchers have studied the definition of values (Raths et al., 1996), types of sexual values (Michael et al., 1994), stability of sexual values (Petersen and Donnenwerth, 1997) and the effect of sexual abstinence high school programs on sexual behavior (Kirby et al., 1997). The current study was designed to identify the social correlates of sexual values among a sample of university students.


The data consisted of 620 never married undergraduates at a large southeastern university who voluntarily completed an anonymous questionnaire designed to assess one's sexual values and the social correlates of such values. Respondents were asked to respond to the following question in regard to their sexual values.

The sexual value system which guides my behavior is (CHECK ONLY ONE):

a. -- Absolutism- strict codes, usually based on religion, which dictate what is right or wrong.

b. -- Relativism- what you do sexually depends on the person you are with, how you feel about each other, and the nature of the relationship.

c. -- Hedonism-"If it feels good, do it." Just don't hurt anybody in the process.

Due to the nominal level of measurement, cross-classification analysis was run to obtain differences, if any, between a series of independent variables thought to be associated with our dependent variable-student sexual value system. Analysis was run by sex, race, age, relationship status, and a series of Likert Scored questions pertaining to attitudes. Phi was used to examine each table to determine the relationship; the larger the Phi, the more the variables were related. Additionally, SPSS allowed a determination of statistical significance base upon the Chi Square statistic.


Among the respondents, 63% were women; 37% were men. Eighty-percent were first year students and sophomores; twenty percent were juniors and seniors. The median age was 19. Respondents were predominately white (87%) and African-American (8.5%) with 1% Hispanic and 3.6% "other". About half (51.7%) were casually dating while the other half (48.3%) were involved in a reciprocal love relationship. Ten months was the median number of months reported dating their current partner.

Results and Discussion

Table 1 reflects the sexual value system by sex of respondent. Out of 230 males, 73% believed in relativism; 18.7% (or nearly 1 in 5) in hedonism, and only 8.3% believed in absolutism. Male sexual values were in sharp contrast to the sexual values of females. Females were significantly (p [is less than] .001) more likely to believe in relativism and absolutism. Virtually none of the 388 women were hedonistic (3.6%).

Table 1

          Absolutism   Relativism    Hedonism

Males     8.3% (19)    73.0% (168)   18.7% (43)
Females   11.9% (46)   84.5% (328)   3.6% (14)


The finding that university students of both sexes are predominantly relativistic in their sexual values is consistent with previous research (Schwartz and Reiss, 1995).

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