Predictors of Sexual Abstinence: A Prospective Study of College Women in the United States

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Abstract: Purpose: Using the theory of reasoned action (TRA), this research examined predictors of sexual intercourse among first-and second-year college women. Methods: Participants completed a confidential self-administered questionnaire on their attitude, subjective norm, and intention regarding sexual intercourse and their behavioral beliefs about the consequences of abstinence and sexual intercourse. Results: At baseline, 58 (34%) of the 172 participants (mean age = 18.2; SD = 0.56) reported ever having sexual intercourse, and 41 (24%) reported having sexual intercourse within the last three months. Proportional-odds analysis on baseline data revealed that attitude and subjective norm were associated with a greater intention to have intercourse, as was relationship status (i.e. being in a relationship), a variable external to the TRA. Three-month follow-up questionnaires were completed by 165 (96%) of the participants. Logistic regression indicated that baseline intention and relationship status predicted self-reported sexual intercourse three months later. Examination of the relation of behavioral beliefs to attitude revealed that beliefs about the positive consequences of abstinence were associated with a negative attitude toward intercourse, whereas beliefs about the negative consequences of intercourse were unrelated to attitude toward intercourse. Being in a relationship and alcohol use were also related to positive attitude toward intercourse. Conclusions: These results suggest that, for college women, the TRA is a useful model of sexual behavior and that abstinence interventions may be a viable risk-reduction approach if the abstinence message is framed to emphasize the positive consequences of abstinence rather than the negative consequences of sexual intercourse.

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