Background: Research on the relationship between sexual risk behavior and perceived risk for contracting a sexually transmitted infection (STI) has yielded mixed results. The objective of this study is to investigate the extent to which 3 measures of perceived risk accurately reflect 5 sexual risk behaviors in a sample of healthy, sexually active young adult women. A positive monotonic relationship between sexual risk behavior and perceived risk for STIs is hypothesized.
Methods: A sample of 1192 female US Marine Corps on their first duty assignment 10 to 11 months (on average) after graduation from recruit training answered a self-administered paper-and-pencil questionnaire as part of a larger study evaluating an intervention to prevent STIs and unintended pregnancy that was administered during recruit training.
Results: All but 1 of the 15 bivariate associations between sexual risk behavior and perceived risk for STIs was statistically significant. The expected positive monotonic relationship was observed except for condom use. Women who never used condoms during intercourse reported lower levels of perceived risk than occasional users and, in some subgroups, consistent condom users. Multivariate analyses further explored the relationship between condom use and perceived risk.
Conclusions: The results suggest that interventions directed at raising awareness of susceptibility to STIs should emphasize how the individual’s own behavior puts them at risk, regardless of situation or context.
In a nonclinical sample of sexually active young women, the expected positive monotonic relationship was found between perceived risk for a sexually transmitted infection and sexual risk behavior, except for condom use.
From the *Center for AIDS Prevention Studies, †Division of Adolescent Medicine, University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, CA; and ‡Department of Human Ecology, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, New Brunswick, NJ
Contributions: Dr Pollack contributed substantially to the conception and design of the analytic approach, performed the analysis and interpretation of data, wrote the initial draft of the article and, after consultation with the coauthors, revised the final draft of the article. Dr Boyer contributed substantially to the conceptual framing of the research question, development of measures, interpretation of the data, and revision of the article. Dr Weinstein contributed substantially to the conceptual framing of the research question, development of measures, and revision of the article.
Conflicts of interest and sources of funding: This research was supported by a Department of Defense grant under the Women’s Health Initiative (DAMD17-95-C-5077) from funds allocated to the US Army Medical Research and Materiel Command, Fort Detrick, MD. No conflicts of interest were declared.
Correspondence: Lance M. Pollack, PhD, University of California, San Francisco, Center for AIDS Prevention Studies, 50 Beale St., Suite 1300, San Francisco, CA 94105. E-mail: Lance.Pollack@ucsf.edu.
Received for publication August 14, 2014, and accepted December 18, 2012.