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Classifying a Person as a Sexual Partner: The Impact of Contextual Factors

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This study assessed the influence of five factors on respondents' judgments of whether two hypothetical actors, Tom and Lucy, would consider each other to be "sexual partners." The factors were: respondent's gender, actor's gender, type of act (vaginal, anal, or oral intercourse), frequency of act (once, several times), and actors' dating status (not dating, dated once, dated for three months). 223 undergraduates (mean age 22.2 ± 2.2 years; 65% female) read 16 hypothetical heterosexual behavior scenarios featuring Tom and Lucy and judged whether Tom (Lucy) would consider Lucy (Tom) to be a "sexual partner." Respondents thought the actors would be more likely to consider each other sexual partners if they had engaged in vaginal or anal intercourse as opposed to oral sex; if they had more frequent sex; or if they were in a steady dating relationship. Researchers and health care professionals should take contextual/situational factors into account when they ask respondents about their sexual partners.
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Keywords: Self-report methodology; Sexual partner; Verbal meaning; Young adults

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Penn State Harrisburg School of Behavioral Sciences and Education, Pennsylvania 2: Department of Psychology, Kent State University 3: The Methodology Center, Pennsylvania State University 4: Center for AIDS Intervention Research, Medical College of Wisconsin 5: Department of Psychology, University of California, Los Angeles

Publication date: January 1, 2002

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