HIV Risk Behavior among College Students in the United States

By Lewis, John E.; Miguez-Burbano, Maria-Jose et al. | College Student Journal, June 2009 | Go to article overview

HIV Risk Behavior among College Students in the United States


Lewis, John E., Miguez-Burbano, Maria-Jose, Malow, Robert M., College Student Journal


Objective. This article updates our 1997 review that examined the literature on HIV risk behavior among college students. Methods. The current review focuses on college student sex-risk behaviors related to HIV-related knowledge, communication with sex partners, self efficacy, and behavioral skills. Results. As reported in our original review, the majority of students continue to have multiple sex partners, use condoms inconsistently during intercourse, and have a tendency to combine alcohol and/or other drugs with their sexual experiences. They remain very knowledgeable about the virus and routes of basic transmission, but that does not impact condom use. Communication among partners about safer sex continues to be limited. Conclusions. Enhancing self efficacy should be an important focus for intervention strategies among students, given consistent evidence for its impact on lowering risk for HIV transmission. Additional evidence-based recommendations for strategies to prevent the spread of HIV within the college population are provided.

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Fifty percent of all new HIV infections occur among people under 25 years of age (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2004) and the majority of sexually transmitted infections (STI) is contracted in people between the ages of 19 and 24 (DiClemente & Crosby, 2003). Studies of STI prevalence on college campuses are limited, but those infected are thought to range from 12% (Patrick, Covin, Fulop, Calfas, & Lovato, 1997) to 25% (Reinisch, Hill, Sanders, & Ziemba-Davis, 1995) of students. About 75% to 90% of all students are sexually active (Dalton, Donald, & Ratliff-Crain, 1999; LaBrie, Earleywine, Schiffman, Pedersen, & Marriot, 2005) and on average they report more than 2 partners per year (DiLorio, Dudley, & Soet, 1998; LaBrie et al., 2005) and over 6 lifetime partners (Civic, 2000). The actual number of HIV-infected college students is estimated to be low relative to other populations (Karon, Fleming, Steketee, & De Cock, 2001). To date only one national study has been conducted (Gayle et al., 1990), and college students still have not been labeled at high-risk as the epidemic has spread (Sepkowitz, 2001). Two recent studies found that HIV infection in college men in the Southeastern United States was significant and their sexual networks were expansive (Hightow et al., 2005; Hightow et al., 2006). Given the extended time between contracting HIV and exhibiting clinical symptoms and since many college students engage in conduct that places them at risk for serious health problems (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1997) such as inconsistent condom use, alcohol drinking, and other drug use, the number of infected college students may be underestimated.

In assessing articles for this review, we utilized an exhaustive electronic search of the published literature with PsychINFO, ERIC, EMBASE, and OVID Medline databases. To ensure that we only selected appropriate papers, keywords included "college students," "condom use," and "HIV risk behavior." In addition, articles were taken from the third author's weekly HIV Lserv. In order for studies to be selected for this review article, the work had to be: (1) only among US college students; (2) peer-reviewed publications: (3) published between 1997 and 2007; and (4) in the context of utilizing psychosocial mediators of HIV risk based on popular theoretical models, including the Health Belief Model (HBM) (Janz & Becker, 1984), Self Efficacy Theory (Bandura, 1990), the Theory of Reasoned Action (TRA) (Ajzen & Fishbein, 1980), the AIDS Risk Reduction Model (ARRM) (Catania, Kegeles, & Coates, 1990), and the Information-Motivation-Behavioral Skills Model (IMB) (Fisher & Fisher, 1992). Studies were excluded from this analysis if the article: (1) was conducted on students outside the US (2) focused on non-heterosexual college students, since the dynamics of HIV risk behavior are likely to be significantly different from heterosexual students. …

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