Social Context and the Sexual Behavior of Elite College Freshmen

Jeremy E. Uecker, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Most examinations of sexual behavior ignore the social context in which partnering occurs. Using panel data from the National Longitudinal Study of Freshmen, I examine how institutional and social network characteristics influence the sexual behavior of elite college students during their freshman year. I find a strong influence of the campus gender composition on women’s sex, such that women are more likely to engage in sex on campuses where they are relatively more numerous. There is modest evidence that sexual culture—measured as the percent of freshmen on campus having sex—impacts both men’s and women’s sexual behavior. Social networks are also salient: Having friends who value religion and partying affects the likelihood that a student will have sex. Still, sexual behavior on college campuses is even more powerfully explained by students’ prior sexual behavior, suggesting that for most, approaches to sexual relationships are established prior to arriving on campus.

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Presented in Session 41: Dating and Adolescent Sexual Activity