Understanding Young Men's Gender Scripts for Sexuality and Relationships
HIV and STIs are of concern to social workers because they disproportionately affect young people and people of color. Much HIV/STI prevention research has used social cognitive models, such as the Theory of Planned Behavior (TPB), to understand sexual risk taking and these models typically significantly predict intention to employ specific sexual safety strategies. But these models may underrepresent emotional, relational and cultural factors that affect sexual behavior. Adding gender scripts for sexual relationships – shared schemas that act on cultural, inter-personal, and intra-personal levels to guide behavior – may improve our understanding of young people’s sexual HIV/STI risk behavior, and contribute to development of person-in-environment theory development. In this study, we test whether adding script constructs improves prediction of using specific sexual safety strategies, over and above prediction from TPB constructs of attitudes, norms, and self-efficacy.
Participants were 18-25 year old, heterosexually active, men. 555 participants completed an online questionnaire that included questions about intentions to engage in seven specific sexual safety strategies (discussing sexual history; discussing birth control; getting STD tests before engaging sex; mutual monogamy; and condom use under 3 conditions of contraceptive uncertainty), attitude, norm, and self-efficacy for of each of those strategies; and measures of endorsing traditional masculine sexual scripts. Equal numbers of respondents were African-American, Asian-American, Latino, white, and other. Seven sets of regressions were performed; one for each sexual safety strategy. For each, intention was regressed first onto the TPB predictors and then, in a second step, onto measures of endorsing traditional male sexual scripts. This tests the ability of the scripts to improve prediction; that is, to explain unique variance in intention.
Intention to use each of the sexual safety strategies was well-predicted by the TPB variables, with multiple Rs ranging from .545 to .667. For 6 of the 7 strategies, prediction improved significantly when the traditional masculine script measures were added at the second step. For four strategies – talking with partner about sex histories and about use of birth control, mutual monogamy, and using condoms when he is not sure whether his partner is using birth control – there was an increase in prediction (change in R2) of 4 – 5%. Endorsing traditional male sexual scripts that include elements of having multiple partners, being in control, and being only lightly attached to sex partners was the most consistent predictor for these four behaviors. Attitude toward being non-monogamous was also a significant predictor of the birth control related strategies. In all cases, more traditional male sexual scripts and positive attitude toward male non-monogamy predicted lower intention to use sexual safety strategies.
Conclusions and Implications
Hegemonic gender scripts for sexual relationships have been implicated as a source of HIV/STI risk. Understanding the nature and role of gender scripts in HIV/STI risk is the first step in potentially changing, the risk-shaping context of heterosexual behavior. Developing community-level interventions to transform traditional male gender scripts for sexual relationships may contribute to enhanced health in both men and women.