So Much for Education! How Women's Condom Use Drops During First Year of College

Women's declining condom use during their freshman year at college may be connected to instability in their grades and alcohol consumption, reports a new study.

The study, involving 279 freshman women at Boston's Northeastern University, found that those with lower grade point averages (GPAs), and a tendency to binge drink more often, reported up to a 10 percent decrease in condom use.

"College women often engage in serial monogamy, resulting in multiple partners during the college years, and they are often unaware of their partners' risk," said study leader Jennifer Walsh, a researcher at Rhode Island's Miriam Hospital Center for Behavioral and Preventive Medicine. "This makes continued condom use important for women's health."

To assess the behavioral health of college freshmen for the National Institutes on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, researchers questioned the students monthly on their condom use. Usage was measured on a five-point scale from "never" to "always." Additional information was gathered on students' socioeconomic status, substance use, and GPAs.

The data demonstrated a shift in condom use -- irrespective of how diligently the students started off. Birth control pills also were shown to contribute to lowered condom use, even though they do not guard against STDs.

The report found Caucasian women and those with fewer sexual partners were more apt to use condoms from the beginning than African-American women and women with multiple sex partners. Some women who believed alcohol led to unsafe sex still were generally less likely to use condoms.

The study, "Changes in Women's Condom Use over the First Year of College," was published online in the Journal of Sex Research (2012;doi:10.1080/00224499.2011.642024).