Psychological motivation and protection motivation as predictors of high -risk sexual behavior among college students

Joy Woo, Pace University


Risky sexual behavior is a major social problem amongst young adults. It can lead to negative outcomes such as disease and unwanted pregnancies. Many factors that may contribute to one's decision to engage in risky sexual behavior have been examined in the literature. Theoretical models, such as the Protection Motivation Theory, have attempted to explain this behavior by conceptualizing the cognitive processes that occur when one makes a decision to use or not use protection. One's motivation to use protection is made up one's level of perceived risk of the threat and level of self-efficacy. The motives for sex, or reasons why one engages in sexual behavior, have also been found to be influential on one's decision to engage in risky sexual behavior, lower condom use and alcohol/drug use prior to sexual intercourse. This study aimed to add to the understanding of risky sexual behavior by establishing a link between motivations for sex and the components of the PMT so that they could be combined into a more cohesive framework for explaining risky sexual behavior. The sample consisted of 163 sexually active college students. Students completed a self-report survey designed for this study that included measures of attitudes towards sex (including perceived risk), self-efficacy, and the motives for sex. The results revealed that only one-third of the college students reported using condoms all the time and one-fourth of the students reported using alcohol/drugs prior to last sexual intercourse. The college students in this study endorsed intimacy and enhancement motives more often than self-affirmation, coping, peer pressure, and partner pressure motives. One's motives for sex and motivation to use protection were not found to be significantly associated with risky sexual behavior with only small to moderate size relationships found. Also, one's level of perceived risk, self-efficacy, and motives were not found to be predictive of condom use or alcohol/drug use prior to sexual intercourse. An important implication of this study is that college students are taking significant risks with regard to sexual behavior. The majority of college students were found to have attitudes that corresponded with a belief that they are not at risk when engaging in sexual intercourse and to be confident in their ability to use condoms. College students engaged in sex predominantly to feel closer to one's partner and for the pleasure of it. Motivation to protect oneself, including having an attitude that corresponds with beliefs that having sex involves risk and higher self-efficacy, may not be related to engagement in risky sexual behavior, one's use of condoms and use of alcohol/drugs prior to sexual intercourse. Understanding why young adults take sexual risks is important in the prevention of the spread of STD's. Psychologists and other mental healthcare providers can use this information to design prevention programs in schools.

Subject Area

Psychotherapy|Behaviorial sciences|Public health

Recommended Citation

Woo, Joy, "Psychological motivation and protection motivation as predictors of high -risk sexual behavior among college students" (2005). ETD Collection for Pace University. AAI3179016.



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