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Sex on the Beach: The Influence of Social Norms and Trip Companion on Spring Break Sexual Behavior

Abstract

Spring Break trips are associated with heavy drinking and with risky sexual behavior (e.g., unprotected sex, multiple partners, unwanted sexual contact), especially for those students who go on trips with friends. The present study adds to this growing event-specific risk literature by examining Spring Break-specific normative perceptions of sexual risk behavior and the role that these perceptions and taking a trip with a friend or with a romantic partner have on Spring Break sexual behavior. College students (N = 1,540; 53.9 % female) were asked to report descriptive normative perceptions of sex with casual partners, drinking prior to sex, number of drinks prior to sex, and condom use as well as their own Spring Break drinking and sexual behaviors. Students perceived the typical same-sex student to have engaged in more frequent sexual behavior for all outcomes than students’ own self-reported sexual behavior. Furthermore, results revealed that these perceptions were positively associated with behavior. The choice of travel companion (friend(s) versus romantic partner) also differentially predicted sexual behaviors. Results suggested that intervention efforts aimed at reducing risks for Spring Break trip-takers may be strongest when they incorporate corrective normative information and target those traveling with friends.

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Acknowledgments

Data collection and manuscript preparation were supported by National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism Grant R01AA016099. Manuscript preparation was also supported by National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism Grant K01AA016966 and R03AA018735.

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Correspondence to Melissa A. Lewis.

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Lewis, M.A., Patrick, M.E., Mittmann, A. et al. Sex on the Beach: The Influence of Social Norms and Trip Companion on Spring Break Sexual Behavior. Prev Sci 15, 408–418 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11121-014-0460-8

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Keywords

  • Spring Break
  • Event-specific risk
  • Social norms
  • Sexual behavior
  • Alcohol
  • College students