Study: Stress might put sexual health at risk

Britt Johnsen

Students who are stressed, depressed or anxious might be putting their sexual health at risk, according to a recent study.

The study by Indiana’s Kinsey Institute shows that males who are stressed or anxious are more likely to practice unsafe sex.

The study was based on questionnaires from and interviews with 1,500 gay and heterosexual men. It found that 20 percent of males who said they are stressed are not only predisposed to unsafe sex but also excited by the dangers of contracting a sexually transmitted infection.

Glenn Hirsch, assistant director for Counseling and Consulting Services, said though it is uncommon, counselors do encounter students with stress-related sexual health problems.

“Any attempt to handle stress is an attempt to relieve ourselves physically or mentally,” Hirsch said. “When people get under stress, they are sometimes not able to think clearly or look at all their options.”

Hirsch also said there is a thrill in doing dangerous things, which some people use to relieve stress.

“Some people jump out of airplanes, some people do technical rock climbing, and some people practice unsafe sex. It’s a way for them to ask, ‘Can I get away with it? Can I beat the odds?’ “

A 2001 student survey conducted by Boynton Health Service showed 51.4 percent of heterosexual males and 36.6 percent of bisexual males who engaged in vaginal sex used a condom.

Health assessment specialist Katherine Lust said stress is difficult to measure, making it difficult for students to recognize when they are at risk for dangerous situations such as practicing unsafe sex.

“There’s not an index or measure of stress,” Lust said. “When asked if stressed out, most people would say ‘yes.’ “

Dave Golden, director of public health and marketing for Boynton Health Service, said students should take advantage of the different opportunities to manage stress, such as attending yoga classes or talking with a friend or counselor.

“Managing stress can manifest in a lot of different ways,” Golden said. “(Students should) take a break and do something that’s fun and good for them.”

Dave Dorman, health educator for Boynton Health Service, said self-awareness is important in both stress management and sexual activity. He said if students make the choice to be sexually active, they should always use condoms.

“Students need to figure out strategies for managing stress,” Dorman said.

Some students said they do not think unprotected sex and stress relate.

“I don’t see a correlation,” said senior Kyle Westbrook, who plays in a band to relieve his stress.

Junior Kim Podlecki said she can see how stress could lead people to not to care about consequences.

“It’s like when girls have to go out and eat an entire pint of ice cream,” she said.