The Sexual Possible Selves and Strategies of First-Semester College Students: What Do They Hope for and Fear and How Do They Plan to Get There?

J Sex Res. 2017 Jul-Aug;54(6):728-740. doi: 10.1080/00224499.2016.1188877. Epub 2016 Jun 29.


The purpose of this study was to expand research on emerging adult sexuality by examining first-semester college students' (N = 282) possible selves and strategies related to sex, and by considering whether these varied by demographic characteristics. Students were first asked to describe what they expected and feared regarding sex and sexuality in the coming year and were then asked to articulate strategies for achieving goals and avoiding fears. Content analysis of participants' responses to open-ended questions revealed that expected possible selves commonly discussed included abstinence, interpersonal relationships, physical/sexual health, and exploration. Fears commonly discussed included reputation, risk-taking behaviors, and rape/assault. Categorical comparisons indicated abstinence and interpersonal relationships were the most prominent foci of expected sexual possible selves (SPS) and strategies, and physical/sexual health was the most prominent focus of feared SPS and strategies. Chi-square analyses indicated significant variations in SPS, feared selves, and strategies based on sex, intercourse experience, and relationship type. Binomial logistic regression analyses indicated religiosity differences in the SPS and strategies of abstinence, explore/experiment, physical/sexual health, interpersonal relationship, and risk-taking behaviors. Implications for research and sexual health education for college-based populations are discussed.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Male
  • Risk-Taking*
  • Sexual Behavior / psychology*
  • Students / psychology*
  • Universities
  • Young Adult