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What influences college students' sexual decisions?

Category: Sexually Transmitted Diseases

While researchers have been working for decades to reduce the prevalence of sexually transmitted diseases across the nation, a great deal of focus has been placed on lowering STD rates among college students. Nearly half of all new STD cases in the U.S. occur in people ages of 15 through 24, and since many college students fall in that age range , they may have a high risk of contracting these infections and should regularly utilize STD testing services.

One reason why STD rates may be so high among this age demographic is that some people in college tend to embrace the "hookup" culture, which encourages casual sex with multiple partners. Recently, researchers from The Miriam Hospital's Centers for Behavioral and Preventive Medicine set out to determine what influences students to engage in these sexual behaviors, especially when they can come with the potential of serious consequences.

What plays a role?
Lead study author Robyn Fielder, M.S., explained that there are many potential dangers of promiscuous sexual behavior. For example, unplanned pregnancies and STDs are two of the most obvious, but people also run the risk of getting emotionally scarred. This is why the researchers examined what motivates college students to engage in these behaviors. To come to their conclusions, they questioned more than 480 incoming first-year female college students about their sexual behaviors, attitudes about hooking up, how they were raised and their alcohol and marijuana use.

The researchers explained that this is the first time marijuana use was explored as a potential predictor for hooking up. This is despite the fact that past studies have suggested that there may be a connection between the two.

The scientists found that overall, pre-college sexual experiences were the strongest predictor of whether students would engage in hookups during their freshman year. This suggests that early hookups can affect people for years to come.

"These findings suggest that women's hookup behavior during the first year of college may influence their hookup behavior later in college," said Fielder. "That is why the transition to college is an important time for healthcare professionals to provide sexual health information and resources to help women make informed choices."

However, the researchers added that everyone is different, so there may be more influences of sexual behavior.

Delaying sexual activity
Parents who want to try and keep their kids from engaging in the hookup culture during their college years may want to advise against them having sex as teens. The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy recommends that parents talk to their kids early and often about sex, about their own beliefs and sexual values, and what sex really means. Also, it is important for teens to have a strong set of rules that they are expected to follow. This means assigning a regular curfew, and explaining that there will be consequences if it is not abided by the rules.

Furthermore, the campaign also recommends that parents do their best to keep their children from dating people that are significantly older than them. Older teens may have different sexual expectations than younger ones, which is why it is important to make sure kids date people that are close to the same age as them - this makes it more likely that they will have the same level of sexual experience.

Finally, parents should not be afraid to ask their kids about their sexual history. If teens are having sex, parents should recommend that they utilize STD testing services.

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