Sex Roles, Vol. 52, Nos. 5/6, March 2005 (
Are Traditional Gender Role Attitudes Associated With
Risky Sexual Behavior and Condom-related Beliefs?
Cindy L. Shearer,
Shelley J. Hosterman,
Meghan M. Gillen,
and Eva S. Lefkowitz
Traditional gender role attitudes, which emphasize an unequal distribution of power in the
family and stereotypical norms about masculinity, may be associated with unsafe sexual be-
havior and beliefs in young men and women. This study was designed to examine associations
between gender role attitudes including gender-based family role attitudes and masculinity
ideology, sexual behaviors, and condom-related beliefs in a sample of sexually active college
students (N = 154). Family role attitudes were related to risky condom-related beliefs but
not to risky sexual behavior. Masculinity ideology was related to both sexual behaviors and
condom-related beliefs but, in some cases, in a direction opposite to that predicted. These
unexpected ﬁndings and the utility of examining masculinity ideology among women are dis-
KEY WORDS: gender role; sexual risk; condoms; college students.
The college years are a time of exploration dur-
ing which men and women gain experience in many
arenas including romantic and sexual relationships.
They may also be a time when gender, and ideas
about gender, are particularly salient. Young peo-
ple may be exposed to traditional stereotypes in new
domains such as stereotypes about men and women
in dating relationships or gender roles in fraternities
and sororities. In addition, they may be exposed to
more progressive attitudes such as lessons on sexism
in university classes. In this study we sought to de-
scribe college students’ gender role attitudes and to
examine the associations between these attitudes and
risky sexual behavior and condom-related beliefs.
An earlier version of this paper was presented at the 2002
Biennial Meeting of the Society for Research on Adolescence,
New Orleans, Louisiana.
The Pennsylvania State University, University Park,
Lehigh University, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
To whom correspondence should be addressed at Department
of Human Development and Family Studies, S-113 Henderson
Building, Penn State University, University Park, Pennsylvania
16802; e-mail: email@example.com.
Sexual Behavior and Beliefs of College Students
Understanding sexual risk and its correlates in
college samples is important for a number of rea-
sons. First, rates of sexual behavior among college
students are higher than among high school students
(National Center for Health Statistics, 2000). Indeed,
some have described the college years as a time
of exploration with regard to sexual behavior (e.g.,
Arnett, 1992). This exploration frequently includes
risky behavior (Lewis, Malow, & Ireland, 1997).
A number of studies have documented high rates
of sexual activity (e.g., McCormack, Anderton, &
Barbiari, 1993) and low rates of condom use among
college students (Cerwonka, Isbell, & Hansen,
2000; Mahoney, Thombs, & Ford, 1995). Beckman,
Harvey, and Tierksy (1996) found that less than one-
half of college students consistently used condoms.
There is evidence, in fact, that condom use actu-
ally declines during this stage of the life course. In a
study of data from the National Survey of Adolescent
Males, Ku, Sonenstein, and Pleck (1993) found that
levels of sexual activity increased, whereas rates of
condom use decreased, as men aged. Thus, it seems
that the college years may be a time of particularly
2005 Springer Science+Business Media, Inc.