AIDS-Related Risk Behavior of Young College Students

Article excerpt

Abstract: Protected sex is crucial in reducing college students' risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) including human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection. Trends indicate college students are knowledgeable about HIV prevention measures, yet underestimate their HIV/AIDS risk in light of their sexual behavior, which they fail to alter in significant ways. The purposes of this exploratory correlational study were to: (a) explore the relationship between AIDS risk perception, self efficacy, AIDS knowledge, and select demographics on ARRB, (b) compare gender and ethnic differences and (c) assess the validity and reliability of the three psychometric instruments (AIDS Risk Perception question, the AIDS Self efficacy Survey and the Relative AIDS Risk Index) and the National AIDS Awareness Test. Participants were 407 undergraduates who attended one of three state-supported collegiate institutions in Florida. The psychometric instruments were found valid and reliable. Sixty percent of the students engaged in unprotected sex and 59% engaged in sex while under the influence of alcohol. AIDS risk perception and self efficacy explained 20% of the variance in AIDS-related risk behavior. Clinical and research implications are discussed.

Key Words: HIV/AIDS, Sexual Behavior, Risk Perception, Self-efficacy, College Students

Incorporating sexuality and sexual behavior into an integrated identity is viewed as a major developmental task of young adults (Erikson, 1968). National data indicate that sexual activity is prevalent among adolescents with 81 % of black and white adolescents becoming sexually active by age 19 (Murry, 1995). Sexual behavior, in spite of its normalcy, represents a major risk for acquiring sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection among adolescents. It has been determined that young adults 18-25 years of age are infected with HIV primarily through sexual contacts (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 1998). College students are at risk for STDs and HIV infection because they tend not to alter their sexual risk behavior in spite of this serious threat (Montgomery, 1996; O'Leary, Goodhart, Jemmott, & Boccher-Lattimore, 1992). One possible explanation why college students do not alter their sexual behavior may be their tendency to combine alcohol use with sex, a combination which has been shown to be associated with increased sexual activity and unprotected sex (Mahoney, Thombs, & Ford, 1995; Spinger, Hawkins, & Loren, 1993). This trend is evident on college campuses located within large urban centers (Mahoney et al., 1995; O'Leary et al., 1992; Sikkema, Winett, & Lombard, 1995) and also suburban settings ( McLean, 1994; Montgomery, 1996). Another explanation may be that college students, like many adolescents, have low perceptions of personal STD/HIV risk despite their pattern of engaging in sexual risk behavior while under the influence of alcohol and other drugs (Brown, 1998; Kusseling, Shapiro, Greenberg, & Wenger, 1996).

One can glean from CDC surveillance data that college students are at risk for STDs including HIV infection, similar to other adolescents and young adults, as STDs are disproportionately found among these age groups (CDC, 1997). While the CDC do not monitor STDs, HIV infection and Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) specifically in college students, they do monitor STDs and HIV infections/AIDS in those 15 to 24 years and 13 to 19 years, respectively. In 1996, young adults between the ages of 15 and 24 years in the United States represented 27% of the syphilis cases, 60% of the gonorrhea cases, and 70% of the chlamydia cases (CDC, 1997). The cumulative number of HIV infection cases reported by 31 states in the United States for those 13 to 19 and 20- to 24 years was 3,850 (3.9%) and 13,910 (14.1%), respectively (CDC, 1998). Additionally, the cumulative number of AIDS cases reported in the 13 though 19 age category through June 1998 was 3,302 (0. …


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