Religion versus ethnicity as predictors of unprotected vaginal intercourse among young adults

Sex Health. 2011 Sep;8(3):363-71. doi: 10.1071/SH09119.


Background: Young adults in North America are at increasing risk for contracting HIV and sexually transmissible infections (STI). Racial differences in HIV or STI risk are well documented, but other cultural and demographic factors contributing to HIV or STI risk are poorly understood. Although religion may play an important role in sexual behaviour, little research has explored its association with sexual attitudes, beliefs and practices. The present study examined how ethnicity, religion, HIV knowledge and attitudes, and other demographic factors are associated with engaging in unprotected vaginal intercourse (UVI) in a diverse sample of unmarried young adults.

Methods: A cross-sectional study of 666 unmarried university students was conducted from 2005 to 2007, with participants completing an anonymous questionnaire on sexual attitudes and health for course credit.

Results: Approximately 50% of the respondents had engaged in any vaginal intercourse and 32.2% had engaged in UVI in the past 6 months. Multivariable analyses showed that increasing age, being in a relationship for more than 6 months, greater HIV knowledge, stronger attitudes supporting the use of condoms, and religion (but not ethnicity) were associated with engaging in UVI. Among the sexually active subset of the sample (n=332), religion was the only predictor of engaging in UVI.

Conclusion: Ethnicity, which is often considered an important variable in sexual health research, does not appear to be associated with UVI when taking into account other demographic variables, particularly religion. Consideration of religion may be important in devising HIV prevention interventions, in order to implement them in accordance with particular religious beliefs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Age Factors
  • Attitude to Health*
  • Canada
  • Condoms
  • Cross-Cultural Comparison
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • HIV Infections / ethnology*
  • HIV Infections / psychology*
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Religion and Sex*
  • Sexually Transmitted Diseases / ethnology*
  • Sexually Transmitted Diseases / psychology*
  • Students / psychology
  • Unsafe Sex / ethnology*
  • Unsafe Sex / psychology*
  • Young Adult