Tailored sexual health messages urgently needed for young female tourists, expert says

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Adapted Media Release

With both tourism and casual
“hookup” sex on the rise among college-age adults, there’s an urgent
need for gender-sensitive and age-appropriate sexual health campaigns that are
tailored to young women’s motivations for taking sexual risks while traveling,
a new study suggests.
More than 850 young women
participated in an online survey about their sexual experiences as tourists
that was conducted by researcher Liza Berdychevsky, a professor of recreation,
sport and tourism at the University of Illinois.
Although many researchers have
characterized tourists who engage in sexual risk-taking as a homogenous
population, “that is such a misconception,” Berdychevsky said.
“There are different kinds of sexual risk-takers, who perceive the risks
involved with these experiences very differently and are motivated by various
needs, preferences and tendencies. Once we understand that diversity, it can
provide very important insights regarding how sexual health education campaigns
can leverage it.”
Building upon Berdychevsky’s
prior work in this area, the study investigated the links between females’
sexual risk-taking and tourism, with the goal of developing sexual health
messages tailored to the needs, perceptions and motivations of specific groups
of women. The findings were reported in the Journal of Sex Research.
Women in the study reported
that their primary motivations for taking sexual risks during travel included
anonymity and desires for “safe” thrill-seeking and experimentation,
Berdychevsky found.
Based on these motivations,
and the women’s perceptions of the physical/sexual, mental/emotional and social
risks involved, Berdychevsky identified five clusters of sexual risk-takers.
She then profiled each group by its members’ sexual, psychological and
demographic characteristics and their likelihood of engaging in sexually risky
behaviors as tourists.
The largest group of young
women in the study, 30 percent, were what Berdychevsky called “fun-seeking
broad risk perceivers.” While women in this group were very aware of the
potential risks and reportedly had relatively low intentions of sexual
risk-taking, their behavior was highly influenced by their alcohol consumption
and the thrill-seeking, party-oriented atmospheres of tourist experiences.
“These women are
vulnerable because they’re highly susceptible to factors that facilitate sexual
risk-taking, but they’re not preparing for those risks. This could mean they
don’t carry contraception or don’t consider the psychological implications of
crossing certain boundaries,” Berdychevsky said. “Sexual health
messages for this group need to address their opportunistic approach to sexual
Slightly more than 25 percent
of women who participated in the study fell into the cluster Berdychevsky
called “diversely motivated broad risk perceivers.”
“Women in this cluster
were very aware of the potential risks, but were willing to take them because
they saw tourist experiences as motivational triggers,” Berdychevsky said.
“If we were to tailor sexual health education messages to them, a
potentially effective strategy might be to address their internal conflicts and
help them reappraise why, if the stakes are so high, they are still willing to
take these risks.”
Women in the cluster called
“anonymity- and empowerment-seeking risk disregarders” also were
motivated to take sexual risks as tourists; however, they perceived the
potential physical/sexual, mental/emotional or social risks as relatively low,
Berdychevsky found.
Sexual health messages aimed
at these tourists should heighten their risk awareness and address
misconceptions such as illusions of anonymity, Berdychevsky said. These
tourists might also benefit from reminders that their behavior could become
public knowledge via the internet or the gossip of judgmental travel
Young women who seek
“safe” thrills or fantasy fulfillment through risky sexual encounters
while on vacation may need to be prompted to examine the roots of these needs
and reassess their beliefs that these needs can only be satisfied in anonymous,
tourist contexts, Berdychevsky wrote.
Because many young people
perceive themselves as invincible, they may not realize that when traveling,
especially in other countries, their risks could be magnified by lack of access
to the resources they would have at home, Berdychevsky said.
“As a tourist, you may
not have your safety net with you – such as friends who have your back, the
ability to speak the local language or an understanding of the local health
care system if you need emergency contraception or testing for a sexually
transmitted infection,” Berdychevsky said.
Based on the dramatic
differences in motivations and perceptions that exist among the various groups
of young women, the findings suggest that issuing “one-size-fits-all,
generic sexual health messages is suboptimal,” Berdychevsky said.
“We need to come up with
at least targeted – but hopefully tailored – sexual health education messages
that should be more effective than generic messages at reducing the rates of
sexual risk-taking and minimizing its negative consequences,” Berdychevsky
said. “Many participants probably would agree that trying to eliminate sex
from tourist experiences altogether would be a futile effort.”
Article: Toward the Tailoring
of Sexual Health Education Messages for Young Women: A Focus on Tourist
Experiences, Liza Berdychevsky, Journal of Sex Research, doi:
10.1080/00224499.2017.1280720, published online 22 February 2017.

Kayode Ojo
Kayode Emmanuel Ojo is the Co-Founder and Managing Director at SHEFFA Limited. He is presently studying Computer Science at the National Open University, Victoria Island, Lagos.