“Emerging adults” (18 to 24 year olds) are developing an understanding of personal responsibility for their health behaviors and outcomes. This age group has disproportionately high negative sexual health outcomes compared to all other age groups. Although many emerging adults attend colleges that offer health services, many students are not using these services to proactively protect their health.
This study examines students’ perceptions of individual and institutional responsibility for sexual health in order to inform colleges’ programming to promote sexual health.
“Go-along interviews” were used at two- and four-year colleges (n=5) in one Midwestern state to explore physical and virtual resources for sexual health. The sample included 78 students (mean age=20.6, 49% female, 33% students of color) who were diverse on a range of student characteristics. Interviews were recorded, transcribed, and analyzed for themes.
Participants considered themselves adults, and accepted the responsibility to access resources for sexual health. They acknowledged that they are in a transition period, and wanted assistance seeking resources from their institutions. Participants at two-year schools wanted referrals to trustworthy sexual health resources, whereas participants at four-year schools expected more comprehensive resources on campus and emphasized the importance of a supportive campus community. Participants’ were cognizant of the financial realities facing their colleges, and how these limited the institutions’ ability to provide sexual health care.
College students accept personal responsibility for their sexual health, but seek support as they transition to adulthood. By making resources and referrals for sexual health available, colleges can better serve their students as emerging adults.
Implications for Programs, Policy, and Research:
Institutions can partner with existing community organizations to increase students’ access to trustworthy sexual health resources. It is important for colleges to treat their students as adults while supporting them in their sexual health needs.