Academic journal article College Student Journal

HIV/AIDS Perceptions and Knowledge Heterosexual College Students within the Context of Sexual Activity: Suggestions for the Future. *

Academic journal article College Student Journal

HIV/AIDS Perceptions and Knowledge Heterosexual College Students within the Context of Sexual Activity: Suggestions for the Future. *

Article excerpt

To what extent are knowledgeable college students engaging in protected sexual intercourse? Are there gender differences in the involvement in protected sex? Are there gender differences in the extent of involvement in protected sex based on the amount of knowledge of how a person can prevent transmission of HIV? To answer these questions an anonymous questionnaire was completed by a non-probability sample of 184 heterosexual college students. The knowledge scale used in this research was adapted from the ongoing National Health Interview Survey, providing for standardization of measurement.


While students were generally knowledgeable about HIVAIDS, it was determined there was still a high incidence of unprotected sexual activity. The incidence of unprotected sexual activity was higher for males than females and the increase in involvement in protected sex between low and high knowledge levels of how a person can prevent transmission of HIV was higher for males than females. Strategies that may impact on students changing to safer sexual practices are discussed.


While estimates place United States college students at much lower risk of HIV than groups such as gay males and users of injected drugs, many of these students indulge in drug and sexual behaviors that place them at increased risk (Gayle, et al., 1990). Even though estimates of average national HIV risk on college campuses are relatively low, the number of students who have experienced multiple sex partners and been involved in other risky behaviors is high, raising the risk for contracting HIV. Thus, the potential exists for the rapid spread of HIV on college campuses (Schneider, et al., 1994).

Health educators indicate that education is the best way to avoid the continued spread of HIV. As an illustration, the National Health Objectives specifically propose HIV education for students and staff in a minimum of 90% of American universities (Healthy, 1991). Health educators acknowledge that cognitive and attitudinal changes take place from HIV/AID education, but these changes do not necessarily result in changes in behavior that lower the risk of infection (Goertzel, 1991; Strauss, et al., 1992; Carroll, 1991; Carney, et al., 1991). As a result, U.S. colleges are working to make HIV/AIDS education more beneficial (Biemiller, 1991).

Cases of HIV are rising rapidly among young people (CDCP, 1997a). Estimates of the CDC and the American College Health Association suggest 1 in 500 college students could be infected with HIV if results from a study could be generalized to all college students. Most of the college students in their twenties currently living with HIV/AIDS were probably infected in their teens.

Adolescence and risk taking often seem to be closely related. Since teenagers frequently have a sense of invulnerability, they may put themselves at great risk without really understanding what it means. Research among college students indicates high levels of HIV risk behavior in the form of inconsistent or no condom use, multiple sex partners, and alcohol and other drug use combined with sexual involvement (Bishop, et al., 1991; DiClemente, et al., 1990; Mahoney, et al., 1995; O'Leary, et al., 1992).

Practice of Unprotected Sex

For college students who are sexually adventurous, the best way to prevent HIV transmission is the use of latex condoms (macDonald, et al., 1990). When condoms are correctly and consistently used during sexual intercourse the risk of HIV may be lowered by 70% to 100% (Roper, et al., 1993). While the reduction in the risk of HIV with the proper and regular use of condoms is impressive, research indicates that college students generally do not practice consistent use of condoms. Two studies found that the majority of college students surveyed were sexually active, but only 40% of those who were sexually active had ever used condoms (Strader, 1991). …

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