Just look what happened to Bella Swan.
We spend our school years being educated about the importance of safe sex, but many still don't practise it. Young adults have more unprotected sex with more partners than any other age group (Flannery et al., 2003), so STIs still happen, babies still happen, and cringe-worthy slogans like the 'wrap it before you tap it' still happen. So, how do you enforce gloving before loving? With the tools of social influence (Cialdini, 1984)!
Rinaldi-Miles, Quick and LaVoie (2013) investigated this using focus groups, to see how participants thought and what they felt about the issue. They asked 48 of the most sexually depraved (had sexual experience, n = 37) and sexually deprived (had no sexual experience, n = 11) undergraduates to participate for course credit. Each participant had to answer a short questionnaire based on the principles of social influence, then discuss their responses in groups. These were their results:
NB: purple bars show a significant effect.
The effect of authority was based around who had the power socially and who had the power romantically - one male participant spoke about his frat brothers using their cachet to affect condom use, while one female participant worried about losing her boyfriend if she didn't follow his lead on condom use.
The effect of consistency was that those who'd used a condom in the past were more likely to use them in the future because of a lack of associated negative consequences. However, the reverse was also true, so those who hadn't used condoms in the past were less likely to use them in the future!
As for social proof, participants' comments were about what their friends were doing - some reported being teased for their condom use (Public Service Announcement time: kids, don't let the bullies win. Wear a condom so you can have safe sex while they stay in and cry over their child support payments).
What your bully's doing while you're doing that special him/her.
Authority works because we want to comply with/aspire to be those of a higher social status, e.g. hot, football-playing, keg-standing frat boys. The magic of consistency is that it works on biased evidence evaluation (O’Sullivan et al., 2010), meaning you only base your opinion on evidence you yourself have experienced. Social proof leads to the risky behaviour of friends encouraging us to take more chances (Lapinski & Rimal, 2005), or to take more care (Choi & Gregorich, 2009).
So, what can we do to make people wrap it before they tap it?
- Make athletes/magnates/basically anyone aspirational endorse condom use (the study showed this works best on guys),
- Get people to use a condom on their maiden voyage and to see themselves as a nifty condom user,
- Infiltrate friendship groups with sleeper agents to boast loudly about their super safe sexploits (the study showed this works best on girls).
I vote for sleeper agents.
- Choi, K., & Gregorich, S. (2009). Social networks influences on male and female condom use among women attending family planning clinics in the U.S. Sexually Transmitted Diseases, 36, 757–762.
- Cialdini, R. B. (1984). Influence: how and why people agree to things. New York: William Morrow.
- Flannery, D., Ellingson, L., Votaw, K. S., & Schaefer, E. A. (2003). Anal intercourse and sexual risk factors among college women, 1993–2000. American Journal of Health Behavior, 27, 228–234.
- Lapinski, M. K., & Rimal, R. N. (2005). An explication of social norms. Communication Theory, 15, 127–147.
- O’Sullivan, L., Udell, W., Montrose, V., Antoniello, P., & Hoffman, S. (2010). A cognitive analysis of college students’ explanations for engaging in unprotected sexual intercourse. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 39, 1121–1131.
- Rinaldi-Miles, A., Quick, B. L., & LaVoie, N. R. (2013). An Examination of the Principles of Influence on Condom Use Decision Making During Casual Sex Encounters. Health Communication, (ahead-of-print), 1-11.