I’m excited to say that today is July 25th. But (hopefully) you are reading this post on September 4th. Which means I have succeeded this summer at getting ahead of blog posting, and getting 2 posts up a week, consistently from May 25 through at least September 4. I feel like Andrew Gelman. Okay not, because he posts daily and I think he is now something like nine months ahead (how? how?). And also for many other reasons that have nothing to do with frequency of blog posting. But still, I am going to savor this moment of feeling happy about it before I start realizing there is less than one month of summer left and I need to turn my attention elsewhere.
And now, turning my attention to today’s topic. In my own prior research, and more broadly, frequently in the literature, people consider how communication with friends about sex is associated with outcomes of interest, particularly sexual attitudes and/or behavior. In this paper, we wanted to understand what is associated with peer communication itself. That is, how might we be able to understand characteristics that relate to better or worse communication with friends about sex? In addition, we were interested in within person differences. That is, not just knowing how people who feel comfortable talking about sex different from people who don’t. But, more specifically, understanding what differentiates when people feel more or less comfortable talking about sex. For instance, we didn’t just want to understand whether being sexually active was associated with better communication about sex (a between person question). We wanted to understand whether students had better sex communication quality in semesters that they were sexually active compared to semesters they were not (a within person question).
We considered individual characteristics (gender, sexual behavior, sexual attitudes) and peer characteristics (romantic relationship status, frequency of peer sexual communication, and perceived peer approval of sex). We followed college students across college, assessing them four times from Fall of first year to Fall of fourth year. We asked about sex communication with their closest same sex friend at university.
Overall, quality of communication with friends about sex improved across college.
Individual factors: Women had better quality communication than men. Although individuals who were sexually active during more semesters generally reported better communication quality, there were no within person associations with behavior. However, both the between and within person levels were significant for sexual attitudes. That is, overall, students who had more conservative attitudes about sex had worse communication about sex. And, during semesters when students had more conservative attitudes, they had worse communication about sex.
Peer characteristics: Peer communication quality did not differ by romantic relationship status. Frequency of communication mattered at both the between and within person levels. That is, students who overall talked about sex more had better communication, and students had better communication in semesters when they talked about sex more. Perceived peer approval was not associated with quality of communication.
In summary, findings demonstrate that both individual and peer characteristics matter for communication quality. Findings also have important implications for peer led health promotion programs, which often rely on trained peers to lead sex-related discussions.
“Peer Sexual Communication Across College first appeared on Eva Lefkowitz’s blog on September 4, 2018.”