New York: In a first, a study led by the University of Illinois has suggested a significant link between instability in the lives of college-goers and the likelihood that they would engage in risky sex.
"Young adults experience a lot of instability caused by frequent transitions in their lives," said Jill Bowers, researcher in human development and family studies.
They have probably moved out of their parents' home and experience changes in residences, roommates, friends, romantic partners, college majors and employment.
"They may drop out of college, re-enroll or transfer to another university. And some experience more transitional instability than others," Bowers added.
The researchers surveyed 398 young adults, all under the legal drinking age of 21.
In the study, risky sex included sex with uncommitted partners, unplanned or casual sex with friends or strangers and impulsive sexual behaviour.
The survey asked questions that elicited the frequency of risky sexual behaviours and assessed participants' psychological well-being and motivations for drinking.
The study showed that the more instability college students experienced in their lives, the more likely they were to take sexual risks, Bowers stated.
"Adults between ages 18 and 25 have increased freedom from parents, are experimenting as a result of their new freedom and are exploring their romantic identities," she explained.
In times of stress, young adults may exhaust the physical and emotional resources that buffer them from risky behaviours, lose their ability to think rationally, and engage in risky sexual behaviour.
"Yet the study showed that it wasn't the fact that young adults drank. Rather, it was their dysfunctional reasons for drinking that enhanced the relationship between the instability they were experiencing and their sexual risk taking," Bowers concluded in a paper available in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.