Women’s sexual risk-taking in tourism focus of new study

REEEC faculty affiliate Liza Berdychevsky (Assistant Professor of Recreation, Sport and Tourism) was interviewed by the University of Illinois News Bureau. This is a re-posting of an article published on the News Bureau’s website. To view the original article, please see http://news.illinois.edu/news/15/0722risk_taking_lizaberdychevsky.html


Pleasure travel: Women’s motives for taking sexual risks during leisure travel and the characteristics of tourist environments that promote sexual experimentation are explored in a new study co-authored by Liza Berdychevsky, a professor of recreation, sport and tourism. (Photo by L. Brian Stauffer)

Pleasure travel: Women’s motives for taking sexual risks during leisure travel and the characteristics of tourist environments that promote sexual experimentation are explored in a new study co-authored by Liza Berdychevsky, a professor of recreation, sport and tourism.
(Photo by L. Brian Stauffer)

7/22/2015 | Sharita Forrest, News Editor | 217-333-2894; slforres@illinois.edu

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Relaxing beach vacations are perfect for sexual experimentation with a steady partner, while group tours and sightseeing trips are the ultimate contexts for casual sex with acquaintances or strangers, women said in a new survey.

More than 850 U.S. women, ranging in age from 18 to 50, participated in the online survey, which asked about specific tourist activities, destinations and atmospheres that women believed to be highly conducive to sexual risk-taking.

Participants also rated 23 sexual practices or situations on their perceived degree of risk, such as having unprotected sex with a regular partner or stranger, or becoming intimate while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Researchers Liza Berdychevsky of the University of Illinois and Heather Gibson of the University of Florida sought to identify the particular contexts that trigger women’s sexual risk-taking when vacationing, as well as women’s perceptions, motivations and likelihood of indulging in these experiences. A paper about their study appears online in the journal Tourism Management.

The uniqueness of tourist destinations, especially those with permissive, party-oriented social atmospheres, promote an altered sense of reality that condones sexual experimentation and exploration while minimizing perceptions of risk and long-term consequences, Berdychevsky and Gibson found in two prior studies.

High alcohol consumption was the primary facilitator of risky sex, women reported in the current study. It provided them with “liquid courage” and “a psychological excuse” to transcend their usual sexual boundaries or taboos for experiences they were curious about, but reluctant to try in their everyday lives, Berdychevsky said.

Other behaviors, such as wearing revealing clothing and feeling more sexually confident, along with feeling disconnected from everyday life and social expectations, also encourage sexual risk-taking, women said.

“Perhaps in everyday life we are so overscheduled and disciplined that once we find ourselves in a situation where there is no schedule and no social control, and the only time we have to keep in mind is the departure of our plane, it releases us from many of our psychological barriers and inhibitions,” said Berdychevsky, a professor of recreation, sport and tourism at Illinois.

Sexual experimentation and conquests were vacation “musts” for some women, providing erotic thrills, a sense of empowerment and bragging rights when they returned home.

Anonymity, along with opportunities for acting out sexual fantasies that were off-limits at home, perceptions of being free from negative judgment and fun seeking were women’s primary motivating factors. However, some women said that risk in itself was a significant motivator.

Women who had previously engaged in risky sexual activities as tourists tended to perceive these behaviors and situations as less dangerous than did their peers who lacked such experience, the researchers found.

“While women rated a variety of sexual activities as risky during tourism, unprotected penetrative sex was consistently perceived as involving the highest degree of risk,” Berdychevsky said. “Some women also tended to underestimate the risks involved in non-penetrative sexual activities and to overestimate the degree of protection offered by latex barriers.”

Understanding the specific types and characteristics of tourist experiences that facilitate sexual risk taking, as well as people’s perceptions and motivations for engaging in these behaviors, is essential to developing effective sexual health education campaigns addressing these kinds of behaviors, Berdychevsky and Gibson said.

“The fact that women have tendencies to underestimate the risks involved in non-penetrative sexual activities, overestimate the protection of condoms and attribute sexual risk-taking to alcohol consumption are factors that sexual health information campaigns might want to address,” Berdychevsky said.

While accompanying a study-abroad group to Australia in June, Gibson snapped a photo of a poster in the Sydney airport that reminded international tourists to practice safe sex to prevent HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.

“The fact that we’re seeing this message in the Sydney airport, but not in the U.S., suggests that the U.S. is lagging behind in promoting awareness of the consequences of sexual exploration in some tourist environments, which studies indicate pose increased risks to sexual health,” Berdychevsky said. “Once we agree there’s a need for these awareness programs, the challenge will be prioritizing the audiences to be reached and constructing effective messages.

“Identifying women’s risk perceptions, motivations and the rewards sought through these behaviors in touristic contexts, as we did in this study, is an important step if we want to try and tailor sexual health education messages to specific demographic groups,” Berdychevsky said.

A professor of recreation, sport and tourism, Gibson is the associate director of the Eric Friedheim Tourism Institute.

Editor’s note: To reach Liza Berdychevsky, call 217-244-2971; email lizabk@illinois.edu.

A Reflection on Diane Koenker’s Lecture – “Vacations, Tourism, and Socialist Consumption in the Post-Stalin USSR”

On September 6th, Professor of History Diane Koenker gave a very interesting lecture that challenged me to reevaluate some of my conceptions of the Soviet Union.  With a specialization in twentieth century Russia and social history, she examined the evolution of travel, vacations, and tourism in the USSR.  She highlighted that rest was an integral component of Soviet life, but it was not until after WWII that the travel industry began to grow.  Professor Koenker explained that the post-WWII travel industry was defined by travel for rest and travel for sightseeing/adventure; both forms of travel were based on a socialist purpose, which was geared to serve the state.  Travel for rest intended to allow Soviet citizens the opportunity to recuperate and return to work healthier, refreshed, and ready to contribute to the socialist cause.  Travel for sightseeing/adventure was geared towards building a communal relationship with one’s travel companions.  It was not meant for pure enjoyment.  This type of travel consisted of excursions to remote locations rather than urban centers where hotels were not available to accommodate groups of Soviet citizens .  This is important to note because it was a reflection of the state’s ideology.  She explained that hotels were seen as bourgeoisie, which therefore hindered their development in the USSR.

Professor Koenker demonstrated that by the 1970’s, these two types of travel blended together to create a new type of socialist vacationing.  I found it particularly interesting when she discussed the ways in which capitalism and socialism combined in the realm of Soviet travel.  Vacationing took on a capitalist form, in that travelers sought to distance themselves from state control, and they began to desire travel designed and undertaken on their own terms.  Family travel as opposed to collective group travel grew in popularity.  However, vacationing still possessed a strong socialist component.  For example, she mentioned that vacations were obtained through trip vouchers, there were limited choices for travel destinations, and the Soviet elite tended to have more vacationing privileges.  Additionally, her lecture highlighted how the rise of vacationing makes a strong statement on socialist consumption in the USSR.  As the travel industry grew, Soviet citizens began to demand greater comforts in travel, as well as more options for travel destinations, as they expected the state to fulfill these demands.

Professor Koenker’s study makes a very important contribution to REEES, in that it challenges the conception that the Brezhnev Era was a time of complete stagnation.  This is certainly not the case if we examine the growth of vacations, travel, and tourism at this time.  I know that I was forced to reconsider my conceptions of the USSR in the 1970’s.  Furthermore, her lecture demonstrated how a consumer culture took on a distinct form after WWII, and that a blending of capitalism and socialism existed.  This lecture also forces us to challenge any preconceived notions of the USSR as total socialist entity in all aspects of life.  I found it particularly interesting that she discussed how personal and state goals could exist in harmony.  Travel gave citizens the increased independence they desired.  However, at the same time, they were not further distanced from the state.  In actuality they became more loyal to it because it allowed new and exciting freedoms in their lives.

Ryan Eavenson is a first year MA student.  He is particularly interested in democratization, human rights, and European integration in the post-Soviet world.  His additional interests include Imperial and Soviet Russian history.  He received a AB in History/Russian and East European Studies from Lafayette College in 2010.  After completion of his MA, he hopes to find employment focusing on international affairs or continue his education.