Unprotected Sex in College: It’s Not Just the Freshmen

college students, gradutationWe’d like to think that college students make better decisions as they continue through college. However, one study suggests this may not be the case, at least when it comes to risky sexual behavior. Surprisingly, the risks actually increase between freshman and senior year. 

A recent study* shows that:

  • The odds of having sex in a hookup doubles between freshman and senior year.
  • At the same time, the odds of using a condom when having sex during a hookup decreases by nearly half.
  • Most of this decline in condom use occurs among students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds.

So why do we care about unprotected sex among college students? Unprotected sex can lead to unplanned pregnancy, and we know that this is one reason why many young women don’t finish college.  It’s particularly concerning that the decline in condom use occurs among economically disadvantaged students, who are already at a high risk for dropping out. This reinforces the need to focus on unplanned pregnancy prevention in colleges.

At the same time, this study does leave some unanswered questions; it didn’t include other methods of contraception, so it’s possible that some students who stopped using condoms switched to more effective methods. Even if that’s true, though, the steep decline in condom use suggests an alarming proportion of students are at risk of sexually transmitted infections.

* Bearak, J.M. (2014).  Casual contraception in casual sex:  Life-cycle change in undergraduates’ sexual behavior in hookups [Advance Access]. Social Forces.  00(0) 1-31.  Retrieved from: http://sf.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2014/10/15/sf.sou091.full.
Authored by: Alison Stewart Ng

Alison Stewart Ng is the Manager, Research and Analytics at The National Campaign. She is responsible for keeping The National Campaign’s online data portal up to date with the latest statistics, and for providing assistance with research requests.  She has co-authored Freeze Frame 2012, and three new additions to our Why It Matters series.  These briefs provide research on the consequences of teen childbearing on topics including education and economic wellbeing, single parenthood and father involvement, and child welfare.

During her time at The National Campaign, Alison has participated in several other projects, including updates to the public cost of teen childbearing, and the redesign of the data portal.   In early 2014, she co-authored a Science Says on teen childbearing in rural areas, and she is currently working on an analysis of factors explaining this rural-urban disparity.

Alison received her BA in International Relations from Tufts University, and is currently working on her MS in Applied Economics at Johns Hopkins University.  She currently resides in Washington, DC with her husband, Abraham.

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