Blurring Emotional Safety With Physical Safety in AIDS and STD Risk Estimations: The Casual/Regular Partner Distinction1


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    Thanks to Sandy Braver for his helpful input during conceptualization and data analysis phases of this project. Thanks also to Rose Weitz, Craig Nagoshi, William Harrison, Barbara Henker, Leona Aiken, and anonymous reviewers for critical comments on earlier versions of this manuscript, and to Gail Wade and Janice Blair for their assistance in the implementation of this project.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Lisa Comer, Department of Psychology, University of California at Los Angeles, 2191 Franz Hall 156304, Box 951563, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1563.


Research on the sexual behavior of young adults has documented a casual/regular partner distinction in terms of condom use and perceived risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). How this population distinguishes between the 2 partner types has not been known, making it impossible to assess the rationality of this strategy. In the present study, college students' conceptions of casual vs. regular partners were explored and used to create 3 sexual partner scenarios: casual, regular with insufficient risk information (regular emotionally safe), and regular with sufficient risk information (regular objectively safe). Participants rated the target partner in terms of emotional safety, AIDS/STD risk, and likelihood of condom use. Results showed participants to be blurring emotional with physical safety; i. e., employing an emotionally based strategy in rating perceived risk.