Risky sexual behaviours among Ugandan university students: A pilot study exploring the role of adverse childhood experiences, substance use history, and family environment

PLoS One. 2022 Nov 16;17(11):e0277129. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0277129. eCollection 2022.


Background: University students are known to have risky sexual behaviours (RSBs). The severity of the RSB is influenced by many factors, including the family environment, exposure to adverse childhood events (ACEs), and the use of addictive substances. However, there is limited information about the influence of ACEs and the family environment of these students in low-and medium-income countries (LMICs). Therefore, a pilot study was conducted among university students from a LMIC, Uganda.

Methods: The present study comprised a cross-sectional online survey among Ugandan students at a public university (N = 316; 75% male; 52.2% aged between 18-22 years). The survey included questions relating to socio-demographic information, family environmental information, the Sexual Risk Survey (SRS), and the Adverse Childhood Experiences-International Questionnaire (ACE-IQ).

Results: Over half (53.8%) reported having had sexual intercourse. Males reported over two times higher mean total SRS score compared to females (χ2 = 4.06, p = 0.044). Approximately one-sixth of the sample had drunk alcohol or used illicit psychoactive substances in the past six months (16.1%). Among four regression analysis models, sociodemographic variables predicted the highest variance (13%), followed by family environment variables (10%), and both psychoactive substance use history (past six months) and ACEs individually explained approximately 5% variance in total SRS score, with the final model predicting 33% of the variance in RSB.

Conclusions: The present study demonstrated a gender disparity with males involved in more RSB than females, as has been reported in most previous RSB studies. Family environment, sociodemographic factors, substance use, and ACEs all appear to contribute to RSB among university students. These findings will benefit other researchers exploring factors associated with RSB among university students and will help develop interventions to reduce RSB to protect students from unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases, and HIV/AIDS.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Adverse Childhood Experiences*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Pilot Projects
  • Pregnancy
  • Risk-Taking
  • Sexual Behavior
  • Students
  • Substance-Related Disorders* / epidemiology
  • Uganda / epidemiology
  • Universities
  • Young Adult

Associated data

  • figshare/10.6084/m9.figshare.18485417

Grants and funding

The author(s) received no specific funding for this work.