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.