Sex, Drugs, Relationships, Contraception, and Fears of Disease on a College Campus over 17 Years

Article excerpt

In 1974 a study of sexual behavior and its correlates was undertaken at a small northeastern liberal arts college (Murstein & Holden, 1979). The correlates included the use of drugs, religious background, self-perceived attractiveness, sexual attitudes, the existence of a double standard, attitudes toward marriage and abortion, and closeness of relationship with mother, father, and last sexual partner, among other variables.

A replication was undertaken in 1979 by Anne Dempsey(1) and another by Murstein and associates in 1986 (Murstein, Chalpin, Heard, & Vyse, 1989). The current survey was completed at the beginning of 1991. In addition to a core of questions repeated from earlier surveys, new items dealing with contraception and fear of disease, particularly AIDS, were added, whereas items that have shown no association with behavior such as attitudes toward marriage and women's rights were dropped.

The first survey in 1974 was heavily slanted toward measuring heterosexual behavior, in keeping with the predominant heterosexual bias of the times. Because the current authors wished to compare past and current behavior and attitudes, many of the earlier questions were retained. The questions, nevertheless, were often applicable to bisexuals and homosexuals. However, the small numbers of these groups in the current sample (presented later) precluded separate analyses.

The results of the current survey can be compared with other recent college surveys (e.g., DeBuono, Zinner, Daamen, & McCormack, 1990; Robinson, Ziss, Ganza, Katz & Robinson, 1991), although the present survey examines many more correlates of sexual behavior than do these other studies. Notwithstanding that the current study is largely descriptive, a number of hypotheses were formulated. The rationale for those hypotheses which were carried over from the first author's earlier studies has been more fully detailed in the earlier publications (Murstein & Holden, 1979; Murstein et al., 1989).


Gender Differences

Throughout the earlier samples, men have consistently manifested a slightly higher likelihood of nonvirginity as compared to women, and in this age of AIDS, the current authors believe that men are less cautious than women regarding sexual gratification. Thus, despite the fact that the 1986 sample showed no significant difference in nonvirginity between the genders, we predicted a modest difference, with men having the higher rate (Hypothesis 1).

Countless studies (e.g., Murstein, Case, & Gunn 1985; Sorensen, 1973) suggest that men are more inclined to press for sexual gratification than are women, regardless of the depth of the relationship. We therefore predicted a replication of the earlier Murstein et al. study (1989), in which men took a more liberal position in overall sexual philosophy (Hypothesis 2a) and in response to a specific question regarding the acceptability of premarital sex with "anyone" (Hypothesis 2b).

A considerable body of data has shown that men are more concerned about the physical attractiveness of their romantic partners than are women (Murstein, 1972, 1976; Hatfield & Sprecher, 1986). From an evolutionary point of view, men are said to take attractiveness as a sign of healthy fecundity (Symons, 1979). The 1986 sample on this campus revealed a significant relationship between physical attractiveness and nonvirginity for women, but not for men, and we predicted similar results as Hypothesis 3.

Early Influences on Sexuality

In the earlier publications (Murstein et al., 1979, Murstein et al., 1989), marginally significant relationships were found for both men and women between close relationship to parents and virginity. However, the trend in terms of child-parent relationships appear to be toward a growing acceptance of children's right to sexuality by late adolescence, or perhaps simply an acceptance by parents of an inability to regulate it. …


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