It is well established that racial discrimination can have negative emotional consequences, including depression and anxiety. But understanding how racial discrimination influences risky sexual behavior, both directly and indirectly, has not been fully explored until now. Megan E. Roberts of the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Dartmouth College wanted to find out how racial discrimination affected the sexual behavior of African -American youths and what factors could protect these teens from this type of behavior.
For her study, Roberts examined three specific domains: attitudes towards risky sexual behavior, deviant peer association, and negative affect. She also looked at how attentive parenting helped buffer the teens from these factors. Roberts evaluated 745 African-American youths at age 10 years and reevaluated them at ages 15 and 18. She found that almost 90% of the youths in her study had been subjected to some form of racial discrimination prior to age 10, which increased their likelihood of engaging in risky sexual behaviors at age 18.
Roberts believes that discrimination causes negative affect. Depressed or anxious youth may seek out deviant peers as a method for coping with their emotional deficiencies. By doing so, they then align themselves with peers who take a more casual and approving attitude toward risky sexual behavior. Therefore, the African-American youths who have experienced discrimination at a young age are indirectly more vulnerable to risky sexual activity in their late teens and are at increased risk for sexually transmitted diseases. However, Roberts also discovered that attentive parenting directly decreased the overall negative spiral of discrimination. She said, “Experiencing discrimination produces negative affect (e.g., depression and anxiety), and this psychological consequence is one factor associated with seeking out deviant peers and, ultimately, with greater risky sexual behavior.” She added that parents who were attentive to their children’s emotions discouraged association with deviant peers. They monitored their children’s alliances more closely, thus protecting them from the influence of deviant beliefs, including acceptance of sexual risk taking. Roberts believes the results of her study underscore the importance of parental involvement and secure and healthy peer affiliations for teens in general, and in particular, for African-American youth.
Roberts, M. E., Gibbons, F. X., Girard, M., Weng, C.-Y., Murray, V. M., Simons, L. G., Simons, R. L., Lorenz, F. O. “From Racial Discrimination to Risky Sex: Prospective Relations Involving Peers and Parents.” Developmental Psychology 48.1 (2012): 89-102. Print.
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