Background: This qualitative study explored the impact of educational or professional achievement on perceived power in relationships and sexual encounters. Specifically, this study considered how differences in partner educational or professional achievement influenced protective sexual behaviors including condom negotiation and patterns of condom use. African American emerging adult women aged 18 to 25 are disproportionately affected by sexual health risks such as STIs including HIV/AIDS and unintended pregnancies. Furthermore, when controlling for condom use rates, African American women in this age range continue to have more deleterious health outcomes when compared to their White counterparts. Thus, it is important to understand the contextual social and behavioral factors contributing to sexual decision-making in this population.
Methods: This study consisted of 19 semi-structured, in-depth interviews of African American women attending a Historically Black College in the Southeastern United States. The theory of gender and power and social cognitive theory were used as a framework for thematic analysis of the relationship between perceived power and protective behaviors in a cultural context.
Results: Results revealed that college women desired partners who were or would become financially stable so that, in the case of unintended pregnancy, they would have adequate support. Women also described education as a self-efficacy booster for partner communication increasing the perceived power they felt in their relationships and sexual encounters. Additionally, women used future orientation as a point of negotiation for protective sexual behaviors such as HIV/STD testing, condom use, or birth control.
Conclusions: Interventions expressing the importance of sexual protective behaviors in achieving future goals, focusing on pregnancy prevention, and/or teaching young women in long-term relationships how to negotiate alternative protective behaviors such as frequent testing and use of birth control may be effective in reducing sexual risk as these are all factors that seem to be a common theme among study participants.