Risky sexual behavior is predictable when taking into account a person's cultural and socioeconomic surroundings a person — and then looking at that individuals values and how they see themselves, according to a recent study by researchers at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. The study will be presented at the 63rd Annual Conference of the International Communication Association, to be held in London, England, from June 17-2

The researchers surveyed over 800 participants in order to isolate indicators that would help social scientists identify whether or not an individual would be likely to engage in high-risk sexual behavior. They designed almost 120 variables to inform each area of their focus including socio/demographic, active sanctions, cultural, relational, and individual factors. Their findings supported the argument that the so-called "sexual script" — a given person's society's idea of how groups are supposed to act regarding sex — had a substantial influence on the chances that a person would engage in high-risk sexual behavior.

"This research can provide information that will inform health educators, public health nurses, HIV/AIDS programs and other community resources as to the motivations and contributing factors inherent in decision-making around engagement in risky sexual practices," Katherine Hertlein, lead-author of the study, stated in a press release. "Further, research findings may contribute to improved outreach, education, preventative efforts, and treatments to help control the spread of sexually transmitted infections."

Engaging in high-risk sexual behavior exposes a person to many risks including changes in their relationships with other people, and changes in their self-esteem and overall health. The researchers stressed the importance of health care providers understanding a person's decision-making process in order to prevent adverse health, social, and behavioral consequences.

Risky sexual behavior is still very common in the United States. In the U.S., 47.4 percent of high school students surveyed in 2011 had ever had sexual intercourse, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), with 33.7 percent of them reporting sexual relations during the previous three months. Of those students, 39.8 percent of them didn't use a condom and 76.7 percent did not use birth control pills to prevent pregnancy. In addition to this, an estimated 8,300 youth aged 13-24 years in the 40 states that reported to the CDC had HIV infection in 2009, while nearly half of the 19 million new sexually transmitted infections are among people aged 15-24 years old.

Researchers limited themselves to testing each decision-making element individually instead of the combined influence of multiple variables on the decision making process, which include substance use, relationship exclusivity, moral development, religiosity, and sensation-seeking. No study to date has considered all of these variables together.

Source: "Testing a Model Predicting Risky Sexual Behavior," by Katherine Hertlein,Tara Emmers-Sommer, and Alexis Kennedy; To be presented at the 63rd Annual Conference of the International Communication Association, London, England, June 17-21.