Source Of Information About Relationships

Despite the statistics, most individuals still tend to perceive themselves as invulnerable to acquiring HIV or AIDS when compared to others (e.g., Raghubir & Menon, 1998). Within the context of close, personal relationships, the discussion and practice of safer sex is often peixeived as unnecessary or as violating the expectations, assumptions, or script of the negotiated relationship (e.g., Crowell & Emmers-Sommer, 2001; Willing, 1994). Yet, it is at the close, interpersonal level between partners where such discussions and negotiations become most necessary. Sexual interaction remains something negotiated between individuals based on the notions of appropriateness brought into the situation (as well as the previous experience of both individuals with each other as well as previous encounters). Shimanoff (1980) points out that each participant brings to the encounter a set of rules or expectations about the nature of how any communication episode should take place. Each individual evaluates the behavior in the interaction and compares the conversation and actions to previous behavior. If a person acts inappropriately or strangely, the sexual encounter may be interrupted or terminated and each person unhappy with the outcome or consequences. Each person is under a bit of stress or tension to make the conversation fall within the expectations of the other person.

Thus, the purpose of this article is twofold. One purpose is to focus on safer sex discussion and practice in close, personal relationships. A second purpose is to focus on close, individuals in personal relationship types who are experiencing a rise in HIV infection and AIDS but are not receiving as much scholarly research attention as gay and bisexual adult males and IV drug-users. A goal of the article is to paint a clear picture of the very real risk that exists for these less-studied populations so that individuals may better personalize the risk and engage in more preventative measures. Specifically, research suggests that once individuals personalize the risk of HIV, there is an increased chance that they will change their attitude and engage in safer sexual behaviors (Ehde, Holm, & Robbins, 1995; Ishii-Kuntz, Whitbeck, & Simons, 1990; Raghubir & Menon, 1998; Timmins, Gallois, McCamish, & Terry, 1993). We propose to examine safer sex, primarily relying on research focusing on how individuals in the various aforementioned populations struggle with personalizing (or seek to avoid personalizing) the HIV and AIDS risk and how they cope with safer sex issues.

Individuals acquire sexual scripts in a variety of manners. For example, the role appropriateness of gender behavior is related to exposure to the media (Herrett-Skjellum & Allen, 1996). The search for role models and routines that are appropriate in a sexual encounter will reflect one particular source of information, the media. For many college students a major source of information about sexuality is pornography (Duncan, 1990; Duncan & Donnelly, 1991; Duncan & Nicholson, 1991), which typically does not include depictions of condom use. In addition, and as illustrated throughout the remainder of this article, individuals’ sexual scripts evolve over the course of the lifespan. The role of sexual scripts in safer sexual behavior is a very salient one, as it affects safer sex practices (e.g., Hynie, Lydon, Cote, & Wiener, 1998; Maticka-Tyn- dale, 1991) and perceptions of susceptibility (Maticka-Tyndale, 1991). Sexual scripts have been described as cognitive structures that guide sexual behavior (Metts & Spitzberg, 1996) as well as stereotypical, expected, interactive behavior in social interactions (Abelson, 1981). In summary, sexual scripts serve as a mental roadmap, if you will, for how individuals are to conduct themselves in sexual situations. Sexual scripts are influenced at a number of levels, including cultural, interpersonal, and intrapsychic levels (Simon & Ganon, 1984, 1986, 1987). Interrelationships exist among the levels. Each of these three levels is examined further in next articles that will follow.

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