New Directions in the Psychology of Human Sexuality:
Research and Theory

Chapter 28

Women's Contraceptive Behaviors and Attitudes

and Their Sexual Behaviors:

Relationships with Chronological Age


 

Deborah Wooldridge

Department of Human Environmental Studies

William E. Snell, Jr.

Department of Psychology

Southeast Missouri State University
 

        Acknowledgments.  Portions of these data were presented at the annual meeting of the Southwestern Society for Research in Human Development (SSRHD), Austin, TX.  Gratitude is extended to anonymous SSRHD reviewers for their peer-review commentary.

       
Proper citation:   Wooldridge, D., & Snell, W. E., Jr.  (2002).  Chapte
r 28:  Women's contraceptive behaviors and attitudes and their sexual behaviors: Relationships with chronological age. 
In W. E. Snell, Jr. (Ed.).  (2002).  New Directions in the Psychology of Human Sexuality: Research and Theory. Cape Girardeau, MO: Snell Publications. WEB: http://cstl-cla.semo.edu/snell/books/sexuality/sexuality.htm.

     

Abstract

Previous work has indicated that people's contraceptive behaviors are influenced by their own personal attitudes and personality.  In the investigation presented in Chapter 28, women's contraceptive behaviors and attitudes, as well as their sexual behaviors and several psychological tendencies associated with human sexuality, were examined to determine whether chronological age might be a developmental variable that distinguishes some women's contraceptive and sexual tendencies.  The results provided evidence that older and younger women approach their sexual relations and contraception in distinct ways.  The need for continued contraceptive information is discussed, as are some implications of this research.

 


Chapter 28:

Women's Contraceptive Behaviors and Attitudes

and Their Sexual Behaviors:

Relationships with Chronological Age

 

             In this era where sexually transmitted diseases are highly prevalent and where AIDS is spreading among both homosexual and heterosexual couples, concerns about what to do to promote safer sex practices abound.  Moreover, given that the greatest percentage of increase of AIDS cases are occurring among women, there is an urgent need to examine the contraceptive behaviors of individuals.

            The purpose of the present investigation was to examine contraceptive tendencies among university female students.  More specifically, undergraduate females of varying ages were asked to complete several sexual-related instruments, including the Contraceptive Behavior Scale (Adler & Hendrick, 1991), the Sexual Awareness Questionnaire (Snell, Fisher, & Miller, 1991), the Attitudes Toward Condoms Scale (Brown, 1984), the Human Sexuality Questionnaire (Zuckerman , 1973), and several questions concerning their sexual history.  This provided us with the opportunity to address several research questions.  First, do women of different ages differ in their practice of reliable contraception?  Second, to what extent are women's condom-related attitudes associated with their age?  Third, are females characterized by differing levels of sexual awareness based on their age?  Finally, are females of different ages characterized by different amounts and varieties of sexual experiences? As a last consideration, the individuals in this investigation were asked to respond to a number of demographic background variables (e.g., marital status, ethnicity).

Method

Participants

          Questionnaires were administered to 253 students (47 males and 204 females; 2 gender unspecified) attending a small, Midwestern university during the Spring of 1993.  Only the females in this sample were studied.  The majority of these students were between 16 and 25 (92.6%), with the remaining 7.4% being 26 or older years of age.  The subjects received partial course credit for their participation.

          Approximately 62.7% of the sample was either Protestant or Catholic, with an additional 36.8% reporting no religion at all or else some other religion.  About 90.7% of the sample was Caucasian-American, and 5.9% were African-American.  Only 14.2% had been married, and 9.8% had children.

Procedure

          When subjects arrived at the testing room, the purpose of the study was described to them and they were asked to read and sign an informed consent form.  They were guaranteed complete anonymity and were assured that their responses would be kept in complete confidentiality.  All subjects who volunteered for the experiment agreed to participate.  Each subject then received a questionnaire booklet containing the instruments described below.  Following the completion of the measures (approximately 30-35 minutes), the subjects were debriefed.  Small groups of up to approximately 35 subjects were tested during each session.

Materials and Measures

          Demographic questionnaire Included in this questionnaire were questions concerning personal demographic data and sexual history.  Each item was scored on an individual basis.

          Contraceptive Behavior Scale.  Each participant was assessed as a reliable or nonreliable contraceptive user through use of the Contraceptive Behavior Scale.  This scale was based on the Adler and Hendrick (1991) refinement of previous research by Visher (1986).  To assess contraceptive reliability, the variables measured included the following:  whether or not birth control was used at the time of first intercourse, frequency of birth control use, use during the last act of intercourse, and the amount of time between the first act of intercourse and initiation of contraceptive use.  The CBS consisted of these five items, all in a 5-point Likert format.  Responses ranged from strongly agree to strongly disagree.  Each item received equal weight, and all were summed to form the Contraceptive Behavior Scale.  Internal reliability (i.e., Cronbach's alpha) for this scale as reported by Adler and Hendrick (1991) was .83

          Attitudes Toward Condoms Scale (ATC).  The ATC was developed by Brown (1984) and consists of 40 Likert-type items.  Sample items include "Condoms ruin the sex act," "Condoms are pleasant to use," and "The thought of using a condom is disgusting."  The ATC has a 5-point response format, ranging from strongly disagree to strongly agree.  A total score was obtained by summing each of the individual item scores (scoring for the negative items was reversed);  scores range from 40 (negative attitudes toward condoms) to 200 (positive attitudes toward condoms).  Brown (1984) found Cronbach's alpha for internal consistency to be .93 for the scale.

          Sexual Awareness Questionnaire.  The Sexual Awareness Questionnaire (SAQ; Snell et al., 1991) was designed to assess the following psychological aspects of human sexuality:  attention to internal private bodily sensations associated with sexual arousal and motivation (referred to as sexual-consciousness); external public concern with other's impressions about one's sexuality (referred to as sexual-monitoring); and individual alertness to others' perception that one is sexy (referred to as sex-appeal-consciousness).  In addition, it includes a subscale designed to measure sexual-assertiveness, the dispositional tendency to act and behave in an independent, self-reliant fashion concerning one's own sexuality.  Snell et al. (1991) reported alphas ranging from .79 to .92 for the SAQ subscales.  Higher scores on the SAQ subscales corresponded to greater amount of each of the respective tendencies.

          Human Sexuality Questionnaire.  The Zuckerman Human Sexuality Questionnaire (ZHSQ; Zuckerman, 1988) is a 14 item scale designed to measure cumulative heterosexual (and homosexual) experience.  The sexual experience items for the heterosexual version of the ZHSQ (used in the present investigation) ranged from kissing to coitus in various positions.  Higher scores on the ZHSQ corresponded to a more extensive history of heterosexual experience.  Reproducibility coefficients for males and females are .93 and .94, respectively.  Test-retest reliability over a 15-week period has been reported as .94 for males and .95 for females (Zuckerman, 1988).

Results

          The age variable was examined to determine how many subjects were contained in the age categories (i.e., 16 to 20, 21 to 25, 26 to 30, 31 to 39, and 40 or older).  Because of the fewer numbers of females in the last three categories, they were combined into one group (26 and older).  Then, this 3-group variable was used to determine whether females at the different age levels varied in their contraceptive and sexual-related tendencies.  The results are presented in the following sections.

Contraceptive Behavior Scale Effects

          Our first research question focused on an examination of women's reliable contraceptive behavior, using the Contraceptive Behavior Scale (CBS).  To determine whether the three age groups (i.e., 16 to 20 years of age, 21 to 25 years of age, and 26 and more years of age) differed in their scores on the CBS, a oneway ANOVA was conducted.  The means are presented in Table 1.  The ANOVA was not statistically significant, F(2, 201) < 1, n. s.  Thus, the three age groups were not found to differ in their contraceptive reliability. 

Table 1

Means for Women's Contraceptive Behaviors, Contraceptive Attitudes, and Sexual Tendencies as a Function of Age


Contraceptive and

 

Very Young

Young

Older

F

Sexual Tendencies

 

(16 to 20)

(21 to 25)

(25 & older)

(2, 201)


CONTRACEPTIVE  BEHAVIORS:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Contraceptive Behavior

 

9.82

10.46

8.79

< 1

 

Scale (CBS)

 

(6.41)

(5.77)

(4.17)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CONTRACEPTIVE  ATTITUDES:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Attitudes Toward

 

142.90

144.72

138.73

< 1

 

Condoms Scale (ATC)

 

(22.07)

(20.70)

(25.96

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SEXUAL TENDENCIES:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sexual-consciousness

 

2.41a

2.78b

2.88ab

4.15*

 

 

 

(1.05)

(0.89)

(0.91)

 

 

Sexual-monitoring

 

2.27

2.31

2.19

< 1

 

 

 

(0.76)

(0.72)

(0.68)

 

 

Sexual-assertiveness

 

1.74

1.90

1.93

< 1

 

 

 

(0.86)

(0.99)

(0.90)

 

 

Sexiness-consciousness

 

1.31

1.40

1.22

< 1

 

 

 

(1.02)

(1.13)

(1.21)

 


NoteN for very young = xx; n for young = xx; and n for older = xx.  Higher scores on the CBS correspond to more effective and reliable contraceptive behavior.  Higher scores on the ATC correspond to a more favorable attitude toward condoms and condom use.  Higher scores on the SAQ correspond to greater amounts of each type of respective sexual tendency.  Within each row, means not sharing a similar superscript are significantly different (p < .05).

* p < .02.

Attitudes Toward Condoms Effects

          Our second research question was concerned with women's attitudes toward condoms.  To determine whether the three age groups differed in their scores on the CBS, a oneway ANOVA was conducted, using the Attitudes Toward Condoms Scale (ATC). The ANOVA was not statistically significant, F(2, 201) < 1, n. s.  Thus, the three age groups did not differ in their attitudes toward condoms.  The means presented in Table 1 show that overall women at all age levels were characterized by favorable attitudes towards condoms (range = 138.73 to 144.72).

Sexual Awareness Questionnaire Effects

          The third research question was concerned with women's psychological tendencies associated with their sexuality, using the 4 subscales on the Sexual Awareness Questionnaire (i.e., sexual-consciousness, sexual-monitoring, sexual-assertiveness, and sexiness-conscisousness).  To determine whether the three age groups differed in their scores on these 4 SAQ subscales, oneway ANOVAs were conducted. The ANOVAs were not statistically significant for the latter three SAQ subscales, Fs < 1, all ps were non significant.  Thus, the three age groups did not differ in their levels of, sexual-monitoring, sexual-assertiveness, and sexiness-conscisousness.  The ANOVA for sexual-consciousness was statistically significant, F(2, 201) = 4.15, p < .02.  The means presented in Table 1 show that overall women who were 20 and younger reported less sexual-consciousness than did the females who were older than 20.

Human Sexuality Questionnaire Effects

          The final research question was concerned with women's sexual behaviors.  To determine whether the three age groups differed in their sexual-related behaviors, separate oneway ANOVAs were conducted on the 14 sexual behaviors assessed by Zuckerman's Human Sexuality Questionnaire.  The ANOVAs for the following sexual behaviors were statistically significant (male feeling covered female breast; male feeling nude female breast; male mouth contact with female breast; female manipulation of male penis; male manipulation of vaginal or clitoral area; sexual intercourse in face to face, male on top; female mouth contact with male genitalia; male mouth contact with female genitalia; sexual intercourse face to face, female on top; sexual intercourse face to face, on side; sexual intercourse entering vagina from rear), Fs = 3.08, 3.57, 5.36, 3.53, 4.18, 4.10, 4.66, 5.52, 5.67, 7.59, and 4.16, all ps < .05.  The means presented in Table 2 show that overall women who were 20 and younger reported a sexual history that was less extensive and less varied than did the females who were older than 20.

Table 2

Means for Women's Sexual Behaviors as a Function of Age


Sexual

Very Young

Young

Older

F

behaviors

(16 to 20)

(21 to 25)

(25 & older)

(1, xxx )


Kissing without tongue contact

4.34

4.28

4.43

< 1

Kissing with tongue contact

4.62

4.56

5.00

< 1

Male feeling female

3.83a

4.14ab

4.79b

3.08*

      covered breast

 

 

 

 

Male feeling nude female breast

3.88a

4.14a

5.00b

3.57*

Male on female petting

3.75a

3.95ab

4.79b

2.87*

      without penetration

 

 

 

 

Male mouth contact

3.73a

4.16b

5.00c

5.36*

      with female breast

 

 

 

 

Female manipulation

3.76a

4.10ab

4.79b

3.54*

      of male penis

 

 

 

 

Male manipulation

3.67a

3.91a

4.93b

4.18*

      of clitoral area

 

 

 

 

Sexual intercourse

3.66a

3.84a

5.00b

4.10*

      face to face male on top

 

 

 

 

Sexual intercourse

3.39a

3.76a

4.93b

5.67*

      face to face female on top

 

 

 

 

Female mouth contact

3.36a

3.47a

4.79b

4.66*

      with male genitalia

 

 

 

 

Male mouth contact

3.12a

3.45a

4.64b

5.52*

      with female genitalia

 

 

 

 

Sexual intercourse

2.65a

3.05a

4.43b

7.59*

      face to face on side

 

 

 

 

Sexual intercourse

2.52a

2.95ab

3.79b

4.16*

      from the rear

 

 

 

 


NoteN for very young = xx; n for young = xx; and n for older = xx.  Higher positive scores correspond to the tendency to approach sexual relations in the manner described by each respective subscale.  Within each row, means not sharing a similar superscript are significantly different (p < .05).  

 p < .05.

Discussion

            The present research demonstrated the importance of examining age as a variable related to women's approach to contraception.  The present results suggest that older and younger women may approach their sexual relations and contraception in distinct ways.

            Clearly, the explanation of women's as well as men's contraceptive tendencies is an important concern for future research, and those researchers working in the area of human sexuality need to be especially careful to examine contraceptive tendencies among both women and men.  The present investigation represents a preliminary step in the direction of further increasing our understanding of contraception and human sexuality among college-aged women.
 



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William E. Snell, Jr., Ph.D.
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