Date of Award

12-17-2015

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Communication

First Advisor

Holley Wilkin

Second Advisor

Cynthia Hoffner

Third Advisor

Ann Williams

Fourth Advisor

Erin Ruel

Abstract

Young adults are at disproportionately high risk for sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Research suggests individuals who discuss sexual health issues with romantic partners may engage in more responsible sexual health decision-making, thereby lowering their risk of acquiring STIs. To date, relatively little is known about how young adults seek sexual health information from romantic partners. This study applies and tests an extension of the Theory of Motivated Information Management (TMIM) to understand the contexts in which individuals seek sexual health information directly from romantic partners or from mediated information channels and the determinants that underlie these decisions.

Two online surveys, separated by three weeks, were administered to undergraduate students. A total of 313 students with romantic partners completed the first survey with 200 of them also completing the second survey. At the outset of the Time 1 (T1) survey, half of participants were randomly assigned to read a sexual health narrative intended to increase their uncertainty and anxiety about their knowledge of their partner’s sexual health. The other participants served as a control group and read a narrative unrelated to sexual health. All participants then answered questions about their perceived efficacy to obtain sexual health information from romantic partners and the outcomes they expected would arise. For the survey administered at Time 2 (T2), all participants reflected on the extent to which they sought sexual health information from their partners and from mediated information channels between T1 and T2.

Findings suggest the sexual health narrative influenced uncertainty discrepancy and anxiety for individuals who related to the main character in the narrative. In addition, the TMIM predicted individuals’ information management efforts within the context of seeking sexual health information from romantic partners. Finally, this study found encouraging results for incorporating a measure of mediated information seeking into the TMIM. Specifically, lower efficacy to obtain sexual health information directly from a romantic partner was positively associated with seeking sexual health information from mediated channels.

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