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Open Access Research article

Which outcome expectancies are important in determining young adults’ intentions to use condoms with casual sexual partners?: a cross-sectional study

Katie V Newby1*, Katherine E Brown1, David P French2 and Louise M Wallace1

Author Affiliations

1 Applied Research Centre in Heath and Lifestyle Interventions (ARC-HLI), Coventry University, Priory Street, Coventry, CV1 5FB, UK

2 School of Psychological Sciences, University of Manchester, Manchester, M13 9PL, UK

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BMC Public Health 2013, 13:133  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-13-133

Published: 13 February 2013

Abstract

Background

The prevalence of unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted infection amongst young adults represents an important public health problem in the UK. Individuals’ attitude towards the use of condoms has been identified as an important determinant of behavioural intentions and action. The Theory of Planned Behaviour has been widely used to explain and predict health behaviour. This posits that the degree to which an individual positively or negatively values a behaviour (termed ‘direct attitude’) is based upon consideration of the likelihood of a number of outcomes occurring (outcome expectancy) weighted by the perceived desirability of those outcomes (outcome evaluation). Outcome expectancy and outcome evaluation when multiplied form ‘indirect attitude’. The study aimed to assess whether positive outcome expectancies of unprotected sex were more important for young adults with lower safe sex intentions, than those with safer sex intentions, and to isolate optimal outcomes for targeting through health promotion campaigns.

Methods

A cross-sectional survey design was used. Data was collected from 1051 school and university students aged 16–24 years. Measures of intention, direct attitude and indirect attitude were taken. Participants were asked to select outcome expectancies which were most important in determining whether they would use condoms with casual sexual partners.

Results

People with lower safe sex intentions were more likely than those with safer sex intentions to select all positive outcome expectancies for unprotected sex as salient, and less likely to select all negative outcome expectancies as salient. Outcome expectancies for which the greatest proportion of participants in the less safe sex group held an unfavourable position were: showing that I am a caring person, making sexual experiences less enjoyable, and protecting against pregnancy.

Conclusions

The findings point to ways in which the attitudes of those with less safe sex intentions could be altered in order to motivate positive behavioural change. They suggest that it would be advantageous to highlight the potential for condom use to demonstrate a caring attitude, to challenge the potential for protected sex to reduce sexual pleasure, and to target young adults’ risk appraisals for pregnancy as a consequence of unprotected sex with casual sexual partners.

Keywords:
Outcome expectancies; Condom use; Theory of planned behaviour; Attitude; Expectancy-value muddle; Dimensional salience