203248 Language of love?: Verbal versus implied consent at first sexual intercourse and implications for sexual health

Monday, November 9, 2009: 2:30 PM

Jenny Higgins, PhD, MPH , Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University, New York, NY
James Trussell, PhD , Office of Population Research, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ
J. Kenneth Davidson Sr., PhD , University of Wisconsin -- Eau Claire, Round Rock, TX
Nelwyn B. Moore, PhD , Texas State University -- San Marcos, San Marcos, TX
Background: Despite substantial research on sexual debut, little is known about the ways in which young people communicate -- or fail to communicate -- about whether and how to initiate intercourse.

Methods: We analyzed data from a cross-sectional survey of students from four universities, limiting the sample to non-Hispanic White and Black students only (N=1883). Respondents were asked if their first intercourse experience was verbally consensual, nonverbally but implied consensual, non-consensual, or if they could not remember. Chi-square tests and logistic regression gauged associations between verbal and nonverbal consent, contraceptive use, and covariates (age, partner's age, religiosity, guilt, etc.).

Results: Overall, among those with consensual first intercourse experiences, half (49%) provided non-verbal consent. Black men were the most likely to provide non-verbal consent (61%), followed by White men (55%), Black women (51%), and White women (43%). Those students who used condoms at first sex were more likely to provide nonverbal consent, suggesting that condoms sometimes served as a proxy for consent. However, even when controlling for covariates, those who provided nonverbal versus verbal consent were significantly less likely to have used contraception at first intercourse. Notably, different factors predicted non-verbal consent among distinct race and gender groups.

Conclusions: A strikingly large proportion of young people consented nonverbally versus verbally at first sex, and those who did were significantly less likely to have used contraception. These findings underscore the need for instruction in sexual communication skills among young people. Public health practitioners should assess for type of consent in future research and programming, with sensitivity to gender and racial influences.

Learning Objectives:
1) Describe the prevalence of verbal versus nonverbal consent at first vaginal intercourse among four groups of U.S. college students (Black women, Black men, White women, White men). 2) Identify the consequences of nonverbal consent for contraceptive use. 3) Evaluate the importance of a) promoting sexual communication skills among young people 4) Evaluate the different types of sexual consent in future adolescent health research and programming.

Keywords: Sex, Contraception

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I have conducted and published several analyses in the area of sexuality and contraception. I have also worked in the reproductive and sexual health field for more than 10 years.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.