Research over the past several decades has demonstrated associations between higher serum testosterone levels (T) and increased prevalence of substance abuse, number of sexual partners, frequency of sexual activity, and permissive attitudes regarding one’s sexuality. Previous research has also suggested that safer sex behaviors may be linked to higher T because they are the bolder choice and either carry social risk or convey social status, given that confidence and expressions of power have been tied to higher T levels.
A recent study by van Anders and colleagues was to investigate whether levels of T were associated with individual variation in behaviorally relevant safer sex attitudes and attitudes about sexual risk-taking, to better understand biopsychosocial aspects of sexual health related to sexually transmitted infections (STI).
Seventy-eight men male college freshmen were recruited for the Implications of Partnerships Around the College Transition (ImPACT) study, which sought to examine associations between hormonal, health, social, and sexual variables during the first year of college. Correlations between salivary T levels and behaviorally-relevant safer sex attitudes were assessed via survey questionnaires. Higher T levels were positively associated with safer attitudes toward sexual encounters, especially those attitudes most closely tied to STI risk avoidance. One limitation of the study centers on how the safer sex likelihood composite, which was used to draw an association between T and risk behavior, is not a validated measurement tool and its internal consistency has been low. However, the safer sex likelihood scale was created based on factors shown to be important for STI protection, and this along with additional survey data conclusions, suggests a significant value as a meaningful measure of safer sex attitudes.
Reference: van Anders SM, Goldley KL, Conley TD, et al. Safer sex as the bolder choice: testosterone is positively correlated with safer sex behaviorally relevant attitudes in young men. J Sex Med 2012;9:727–734.