Risky sexual behavior

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Risky sexual behavior is the description of the activity that will increase the probability that a person engaging in sexual activity with another person infected with a sexually transmitted infection will be infected[1] or become pregnant, or make a partner pregnant. It can mean two similar things: the behavior itself, the description of the partner's behavior. The behavior could be unprotected vaginal, oral, or anal intercourse. The partner could be a nonexclusive partner, HIV-positive, or an intravenous drug user.[2] Drug use is associated with risky sexual behaviors.[3]


Risky sexual behavior can be:

  • Barebacking, i.e. sex without a condom.
  • Mouth-to-genital contact.
  • Starting sexual activity at a young age.
  • Having multiple sex partners.
  • Having a high-risk partner, someone who has multiple sex partners or infections.
  • Anal sex.
  • Sex with a partner who has ever injected drugs.
  • Engaging in sex work.[4]

Risky sexual behavior includes unprotected intercourse, multiple sex partners, and illicit drug use.[5] The use of alcohol and illicit drugs greatly increases the risk of gonorrhea, chlamydia, trichomoniasis, hepatitis B, and HIV/AIDS. Trauma from penile-anal sex has been identified as a risky sexual behavior.[6]

North American adolescents can be sexually active yet do not take appropriate precautions to prevent infection or pregnancies. Misconceptions of invulnerability and the practice of ignoring long-term consequences of their behavior tend to promote risky sexual behavior. Risky sexual behaviors can lead to serious consequences both for person and their partner(s). This sometimes includes cervical cancer, ectopic pregnancy and infertility.[2] An association exists between those with a higher incidence of body art (body piercings and tattoos) and risky sexual behavior.[6]


Most Canadian and American adolescents aged 15 to 19 years describe having had sexual intercourse at least one time. In the same population, 23.9% and 45.5% of young, adolescent females describe having sex with two or more sexual partners during the previous year. Of the males in the same population 32.1% of Canadian males had two or more partners and 50.8% of American males also describe a similar experience.[2]


Several factors linked to risky sexual behaviors – inconsistent condom use, alcohol use, polysubstance abuse, depression, lack of social support, recent incarceration, residing with a partner, and exposure to intimate partner violence and childhood sexual abuse – may represent appropriate intervention points to prevent subsequent risky sexual behavior; however, further research is needed to establish the exact causal relationship between these factors and risky sexual behaviors.[7][8] Sexual health risk reduction can include motivational exercises, assertiveness skills, educational and behavioral interventions. Counseling has been developed and implemented for people with severe mental illness, may improve participants' knowledge, attitudes, beliefs, behaviors or practices (including assertiveness skills) and could lead to a reduction in risky sexual behavior.[5][5]


  1. ^ Dimbuene, Zacharie Tsala; Emina, Jacques B.O.; Sankoh, Osman (2014). "UNAIDS 'multiple sexual partners' core indicator: promoting sexual networks to reduce potential biases". Global Health Action. 7 (1): 23103. doi:10.3402/gha.v7.23103. ISSN 1654-9716. PMC 3955766. PMID 24647127.
  2. ^ a b c Hall, Peter A. (2004). "Risky Adolescent Sexual Behavior: A Psychological Perspective for Primary Care Clinicians". Topics in Advanced Practice Nursing eJournal.
  3. ^ Frayer, Cheryl D; Hirsch, Rosemarie; et al. (September 11, 2007). "Advance Data From Vital and Health Statistics, Drug Use and Sexual Behaviors Reported by Adults in the United States, 1999 – 2002" (PDF). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics. Retrieved April 21, 2017.
  4. ^ "High Risk Sexual Behaviour". British Columbia, HealthLinkBC. May 27, 2016. Retrieved April 21, 2017.
  5. ^ a b c Pandor, Abdullah; Kaltenthaler, Eva; Higgins, Agnes; Lorimer, Karen; Smith, Shubulade; Wylie, Kevan; Wong, Ruth (2015). "Sexual health risk reduction interventions for people with severe mental illness: a systematic review". BMC Public Health. 15 (1): 138. doi:10.1186/s12889-015-1448-4. ISSN 1471-2458. PMC 4330652. PMID 25886371.
  6. ^ a b Potter, Patricia (2013). Fundamentals of nursing. St. Louis, Mo: Mosby Elsevier. p. 386. ISBN 9780323079334.
  7. ^ Engstrom, M, Winham, KM, & Gilbert, L. Types and characteristics of childhood sexual abuse: How do they matter in HIV sexual risk behaviors among women in methadone treatment in New York City? Substance Use & Misuse, 2016; 51:3, 277-294
  8. ^ Icard LD, Jemmott, John B., I., II, Teitelman A, O’Leary A, Heeren GA. Mediation effects of problem drinking and marijuana use on HIV sexual risk behaviors among childhood sexually abused South African heterosexual men. Child Abuse & Neglect, 2014; 38(2): 234-242

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