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Article << Previous     |     Next >>   Contents Vol 7(1)

Young adult sexual health: current and prior sexual behaviours among non-Hispanic white US college students

Jenny A. Higgins A E, James Trussell B, Nelwyn B. Moore C, J. Kenneth Davidson D

A Heilbrunn Department of Population and Family Health, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University, 60 Haven Avenue, New York, NY 10032, USA.
B The Office of Population Research, Princeton University, 202 Wallace Hall, Princeton, NJ 08544, USA.
C Texas State University, San Marcos, 809 Belvin Street, San Marcos, TX 78666, USA.
D University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire, 2634 Collingwood Drive, Round Rock, TX 78665, USA.
E Corresponding author. Email: jh2527@columbia.edu
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Background: Less is known about the sexual health of young adults than about adolescents, despite 20 to 24-year-olds’ greater risk of unintended pregnancy and sexually transmissible infections. This paper provides information on college students’ prior and current sexual practices including oral sex, vaginal intercourse, anal intercourse and masturbation. Methods: We analysed data from a cross-sectional sexuality survey of students from two university campuses in the USA, one Mid-western and one South-western (n = 1504). The sample consisted of non-Hispanic white, never-married students who identified as heterosexual. Results: Of 16 possible combinations of four sexual activities (solitary masturbation, oral sex, vaginal intercourse and anal intercourse), only four contained more than 5% of respondents: masturbation, oral sex and vaginal intercourse (37%); oral sex and vaginal intercourse only (20%); all four (14%); and none (8%). Twenty percent had ever engaged in anal intercourse. Women were significantly less likely than men to have ever masturbated (48 v. 92%). Analyses exhibited several sexual health challenges, including lack of verbal sexual consent, alcohol use proximal to sex and lack of contraceptive use. Conclusions: Although few young adults are substituting it for vaginal intercourse, anal intercourse is increasingly common and safer sex efforts should encourage condom use during both sexual activities. Masturbation should be encouraged as an alternative to higher risk sexual practices and an essential aspect of sexual well being. Finally, practitioners should continue to address specific threats to college students’ sexual health, including alcohol use and non-verbal consent.

Keywords: anal intercourse, college students, masturbation, oral sex, sexual practices, young adults.

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