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Study shows promiscuity linked to poverty, unemployment

Published: Monday, February 1, 2010

Updated: Wednesday, July 25, 2012 20:07

A new study conducted by counseling psychology doctoral candidate Matthew J. Davis suggests that increased sexual appetite and promiscuity may be linked to poverty and unemployment in young people.

"With the current economic crisis and the high rates of sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancies, it is important to understand factors related to higher risk sexual behavior," Davis said.

Davis's findings were published in the journal "Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity." He began his research after a seminar on alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs attempted to define addiction. Davis said he wanted to know how behavior without a financial constraint, unlike alcohol abuse, would be impacted by unemployment.

"I think that the findings help us all understand the experience of poverty a bit better," said Brian Colwell, associate professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Rural Public Health and department head of social and behavioral health. "The findings demonstrate to us the complexity of all human behavior, which is good for all of us to remember."

The data was from interviews completed in 2006 of 2,362 participants ages 21-27. Their responses concerning sexual behavior, including number of partners, frequency and use of birth control and condoms, was considered. While the study is more important for young people not currently enrolled in college, the study is also relevant to A&M students, Davis said.

"College students are typically at a lower risk of the negative effects of unemployment and poverty because they have a functional social role," Davis said. "Some students are not as actively engaged on campus and thus being unemployed may affect the sexual behavior and risk of these students."

Students entering the job market during the economic slump may also find the study relevant.

"It might start affecting people as we drift off campus, but for now we're kind of in a bubble," said Diana Melendez, sophomore sociology major.

The connection between increased likelihood of multiple sexual partners, poverty and neglecting to use birth control could be explained by the time structure and social responsibility associated with employment.

"Behavior isn't driven by one single factor, but by a wide array of factors that range from your genetic makeup that impacts how your brain manufactures different neurotransmitters to interpersonal relationships on up to social messages that tell us how we should behave," Colwell said. "This research gives a picture of that complexity."

Davis said he hopes that with a better understanding of this behavior, the negative outcomes of risky sexual behavior can be reduced.

"These findings were also important to highlight a new potential intervention point for reducing negative sexual health outcomes among young adults," Davis said. "In order for interventions to be successful in reducing these behaviors, we must first understand why this relationship occurs."

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