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Bethany Preston, Rachel L. Grover, Ph.D.

Extending Our Knowledge of Heterosocial Competence to Risky Sexual Behavior in Late Adolescence

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Heterosocial competence refers to one’s ability to interact effectively in social situations with individuals of the opposite sex (Barlow et al., 1977; Hansen et al., 1992). Heterosocial competence is theorized to be important in adolescents learning to navigate difficult sexual situations, as this competence is thought to provide the basis for adolescents to develop the specific sexual communication abilities needed to manage sexual situations (Nangle & Hansen, 1998; Sullivan, 1953). The purpose of this project is to determine the associations among heterosocial competence, sexual communication, and risky sexual behaviors – specifically instances of unwanted sexual activity and inconsistent condom use – in a late adolescent population.

Thus far, 88 undergraduate students from Loyola University Maryland and Towson University were surveyed. The students (72 females, 16 males) were between 18 and 20 years old (M = 18.50, SD = .61), were freshmen or sophomores in college (60% freshman, 40% sophomores), identified mostly as Caucasian (81%), and were sexually active within the past three months of taking the surveys. On average, students indicated that they became sexually active at 16 years of age (M = 16.65, SD = 1.79) and had one sexual partner in the three months prior to taking the survey (M = 1.86, SD = 2.45). Results suggest that on average, students in this sample used condoms during 42% of their sexual activities within the past three months. Data collection for this project is currently ongoing.

Data was collected via online survey measures. The Measure of Heterosocial Competence, the Dyadic Sexual Communication Scale (DSC), the Condom Methods Scales of the Contraceptive and Prophylactic Behavior Questionnaire (CPBQ), and the Sexual Giving-in Experience Survey (SEXP) were used to assess the variables of interest in this study.

Preliminary analyses suggest that in men, heterosocial competence and sexual communication abilities were significantly associated (r = .65, p = .008, two-tailed). Sexual communication was negatively associated with the frequency of condom use in men (r = -.59, p = .01, one-tailed). In women, heterosocial competence was significantly associated with the frequency of unwanted sexual activity (r = -.24, p = .02, one-tailed) and the frequency of condom use (r = .28, p = .01, one-tailed). Additionally, sexual communication was significantly associated with the frequency of unwanted sexual activity in women (r = -.25, p = .02, one-tailed). A model testing the hypothesis that there was a significant relation between heterosocial competence and the frequency of unwanted sexual activity, and that this relation is mediated by sexual communication, was also significant in women and provided evidence for mediation.

The results demonstrate that both heterosocial competence and sexual communication abilities are important in understanding risky sexual behaviors in late adolescents. These findings indicate that targeting heterosocial competence and sexual communication could be important factors in sexual risk interventions aimed at reducing risky sexual behavior in late adolescents.

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