Safer Sex as the Bolder Choice: Testosterone Is Positively Correlated with Safer Sex Behaviorally Relevant Attitudes in Young Men


Sari M. van Anders, PhD, Departments of Psychology & Women's Studies, University of Michigan, 530 Church Street, Ann Arbor, MI 48109, USA. Tel: (1) 734-647-6981; Fax: (1) 734-764-3520; E-mail:


Introduction.  Higher testosterone (T) is tied to risk-taking, especially in financial domains but also in health domains relevant to acquiring sexually transmitted infections (STIs). However, safer sex constructs could themselves carry the possibility of “social risk” due to sexual stigma or embarrassment, or could involve boldness or confidence because they could represent status displays of frequent sexual activity.

Aim.  To determine how T and behaviorally relevant attitudes about sexual risk-taking are linked, to better understand biopsychosocial aspects of sexual health related to STIs.

Methods.  In 78 first-year male college students, we examined correlations between salivary T and behaviorally relevant safer sex attitudes assessed via questionnaires.

Main Outcome Measures.  T, via saliva; safer sex attitudes, via a composite and the University of California, Los Angeles Multidimensional Condom Attitudes Scale (MCAS).

Results.  Higher T was significantly correlated with higher scores on the following: safer sex likelihood composite, r(73) = 0.33, P = 0.003; the MCAS safer sex resilience, r(32) = 0.36, P = 0.037; and the MCAS condom purchase comfort, r(32) = 0.37, P = 0.031. Associations between T and safer sex likelihood and resilience were still robust after controlling for potential confounds, though the association between T and purchase comfort diminished to a trend.

Conclusions.  Higher T was positively linked with safer sex attitudes, especially those most closely tied to STI risk avoidance. Thus, future research and interventions for STI prevention should address the possibility that safer sex may be paradoxically perceived as a “bold” or “risky” choice even as it decreases STI risk. van Anders SM, Goldey KL, Conley TD, Snipes DJ, and Patel DA. Safer sex as the bolder choice: Testosterone is positively correlated with safer sex behaviorally relevant attitudes in young men. J Sex Med 2012;9:727–734.