Situational factors and thought processes associated with unprotected intercourse in heterosexual students

AIDS Care. 1992;4(3):305-23. doi: 10.1080/09540129208253101.


Heterosexual students were asked to recall two sexual encounters from the preceding six months: one in which they had unprotected intercourse ('unsafe' encounter) and one in which they resisted a strong temptation to have unprotected intercourse ('safe' encounter). The aims were to record justifications for unprotected intercourse that respondents had given themselves during the unsafe encounter and to identify factors that distinguished between the encounters. In respondents recalling an unsafe encounter (n = 284), the most common self-justification reported was that there was no need for concern since measures to avoid pregnancy had been taken. The first factor that emerged from a Factor Analysis of the self-justification data involved using perceptible characteristics to infer that the partner was unlikely to be infected. Among respondents recalling both encounters (n = 173), there was a trend for type of partner to distinguish between the encounters. With this variable controlled (n = 115), desires, knowledge of condom availability, communication about condom use, degree of boredom, and level of intoxication differentiated between the encounters. The results are discussed in relation to those obtained in our earlier study of gay men.

PIP: In order to identify contributory factors to intercourse without use of a condom, heterosexual students were asked to recall 2 sexual encounters from the preceding 6 months: protected intercourse (a safe encounter) and unprotected intercourse (an unsafe encounter). In January 1990, self-administered questionnaires were distributed to 4 residential colleges of University College, London, England. The results pertain to the 284 respondents (129 males, 155 females) who reported an unsafe encounter in which they assumed the partner had taken care of protection. 173 of these (78 males, 95 females) also reported a safe encounter, 78.9% of the sample were in the age range 18-21 years. Control of the variable of partner to distinguish between the encounters yielded 115 cases. Therefore, desires, knowledge of condom availability, communication about condom use, degree of boredom, and level of intoxication differentiated between the encounters. 68.3% of the unsafe encounters had been with a partner to whom respondents had a strong emotional commitment, while 27.5% had been with a casual partner. 98.2% disclosed that they had known that in unprotected intercourse HIV can be transmitted from either sexes (96.8%). 81% reported that they perceived the risk of catching AIDS when they decided to have unprotected intercourse. Only 2.8% of respondents consumed alcohol during sex, and only 1.8% took drugs during sex. 21.8% had involuntary unprotected intercourse because of sexual arousal. There were 68 self- justifications listed for having unprotected intercourse, and 85.9% reported that at least one of these had been in their mind. In an unsafe encounter, the partner tended to be a significant other for females rather than for males (74.8% vs 60.5%) and was more likely to have been a casual partner in the case of males than females (33.3%) vs. 22.6%). The partner had been a significant other in 69.2% of cases in the unsafe encounter vs. in 60.9% of cases with safe encounters.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Attitude to Health*
  • Contraceptive Devices, Male / statistics & numerical data
  • Factor Analysis, Statistical
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Humans
  • London
  • Male
  • Rationalization*
  • Sexual Behavior*
  • Students / psychology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Universities