Feature Archive

Safe Sex or Russian Roulette?

Insistence on condom use actually strengthens relationships.

WebMD Feature

The discrepancy between what college students know about safe sex and what they do is staggering. A significant number of young people have been diagnosed with AIDS. Of the 688,200 AIDS cases reported to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention through December 1998, more than 121,000 were ages 13 to 29.

Yet most young people don't take the one step that could prevent them from becoming infected with the deadly HIV virus -- that is, use a condom.

Why not? One frequent reason is the belief that one's partner would be insulted or think less of you if you insisted on using a condom, according to a study published in 1997.

Survey Suggests Otherwise

But a recent study by communications experts at the University of Georgia suggests this may not be so. John E. Hocking, PhD, and his colleagues in the department of speech communication found that a person who insists on a condom is most often perceived as responsible and caring. And the relationship can benefit, they found, if a partner insists on condom use. Both male and female subjects tended to view a relationship as closer, more intimate, and more likely to last when their partners insisted on using a condom. The study was published in the Journal of Adolescence.

Hocking and his colleagues designed a role-playing scenario in which each participant imagined he or she was going to have sex with a new partner for the first time. The students visualized how they met, what they were wearing on the night that sex was likely to occur, even whether they both enjoyed the movie on their fantasy date or not.