Exploring the Roles of Impression Management and Gender Norm Conformity in Relation to Sexual History Disclosure

Wednesday, March 12, 2008
Continental Ballroom
Serena C. Lo, MS , Psychology, The George Washington University, Washington, DC
Paul J. Poppen, PhD , Psychology, The George Washington University, Washington, DC
Sarah K. Calabrese, BS , Psychology, The George Washington University, Washington, DC

Although new sexual partners may discuss sexual topics, many circumvent specific disclosures about their sexual histories. For example, Desiderato and Crawford (1995) found that less than half of respondents told their partners about lapses in condom use with previous partners. Since knowledge of a partner's sexual history often informs HIV/STI risk perception and influences safer sex decision-making, it is important to identify both personal and cultural barriers to honest disclosure.

We examined lifetime number of sexual partners, perceived sexual history desirability, and gender norm conformity in relation to sexual history disclosure.

A survey was administered to 82 men and 120 women attending a mid-Atlantic university. The survey included the Conformity to Masculine / Feminine Norms Inventories (Mahalik et al., 2003, 2005), a measure of participants' perceptions about the social desirability of their sexual histories, and a scale assessing the extent of participants' sexual history disclosure to their most recent partner before the first time they had sex. Participants also reported their lifetime number of sexual partners.

Women with more sexual partners and lower desirability ratings disclosed less sexual history information prior to sexual involvement with their most recent partner. Among men, number of partners and sexual history desirability were unrelated to disclosure, but conformity to certain masculine norms was associated with less sexual history disclosure. Women's greater conformity to norms that confine sexual activity to committed relationships was associated with greater sexual history disclosure.

Women who expect their sexual pasts to be negatively evaluated may be less likely to disclose their sexual history prior to sexual involvement with new partners, whereas men's disclosure may be inhibited by certain types of masculine norms.

Traditional gender norms have differential implications for interventions promoting sexual safety and communication about safer sex.
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