In the United States, half of all new human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) cases are among 13- to 24-year-old women. Heterosexual contact is the primary route of transmission (73%). Young African Americans account for 56% of reported HIV cases. In an earlier study, S. T. Roberts and B. L. Kennedy (2006) studied sexual decision making among 100 young multiethnic college women (YMCW). Participants reported high condom use intention (84%) but inconsistent condom use (64%). Participants perceived their risk of acquiring HIV and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) as low; however, their actual risk was assessed as high. YMCW reported that alcohol and drugs impaired their judgment to practice safer sex. The YMCW concurrently reported that alcohol and drugs were a routine part of their sexual experiences. The current study examined a group of YMCW to elucidate the reasons that the knowledge of safer-sex practices was not put into practice. The authors sought insight into the lived experiences of YMCW's sexual behavioral choices. The qualitative study recruited 15 participants. Focus groups were conducted, and quantitative HIV and STD knowledge questionnaires were administered. The YMCW verbalized high knowledge of HIV, STDs, and safer-sex practices. The questionnaire scores evidenced significant knowledge deficit in these same categories. Themes emerged from the narrative date. Two beliefs or myths explained why women engaged in sex without a condom. The first belief was that YMCW were not in control of their sexual behavior when “being in the moment.” The second belief was “not remembering what happened” secondary to alcohol use. The women reported that the myths were culturally accepted in their peer group; however, the YMCW knew that the myths were untrue. The YMCW expressed a strong desire for someone to teach them “real information” on sexuality as this information was missing in their health education courses.
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Published online: January 16, 2009
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