Date of Award




Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Department of Educational and Counseling Psychology


Counseling Psychology

Content Description

1 online resource (ii, vi, 86 pages) : illustrations (some color)

Dissertation/Thesis Chair

Jessica L Martin

Committee Members

Hung-Bin Sheu, Frank R Dillon


College Students, Gender, Health-Risk Behaviors, Peer Norms, Risky Sexual Behavior, Social Media, College students, Online social networks, Social media, Risk-taking (Psychology)

Subject Categories

Counseling Psychology


Risky sexual behavior (RSB; i.e., behavior that increases the risk of contracting an STI and/or unplanned pregnancy) is common on college campuses and poses serious health risks to students. Yet, little research has examined the factors impacting students’ engagement in RSB. The current study examined the role of gender and social media in college students’ peer norms of and intentions to engage in RSB. An experimental design was used in which participants were exposed to one of four conditions (i.e., neutral or RSB content, within and without a social media platform) and then asked to report on peer norms of RSB and their own intentions to engage in RSB. Results demonstrated that, contrary to hypotheses, there was no significant interaction between experimental condition and gender in predicting descriptive norms of risky sexual behavior and intentions to engage in risky sexual behavior. Result did, however, demonstrate a main effect of gender for peer norms of RSB; female participants reported significantly higher peer norms of RSB than male participants. No other statistically significant main effects were found. Results emphasize the ubiquity of RSB among college students and the large discrepancy between students’ peer norms of RSB and actual behavior. The significant difference between female and male students’ perceptions of peers’ engagement in RSB is an important finding in the context of inconsistent previous research on gender differences in peer norms of RSB. Possible explanations for the non-significant findings in the current study are discussed as well as implications for prevention and intervention efforts aimed at reducing college students’ engagement in RSB.