The earlier an individual engages in sexual activity, the more risk he or she has for negative mental and physical health outcomes. Becoming sexually active at a young age can create stress, put a strain on romantic relationships, and diminish feelings of self-worth. Young teen girls who engage in sexual activity to win the approval of a boy may find themselves disappointed when the relationship ends and may be at odds with their own value system. Additionally, girls who engage in sex at an early age may not consider the risks associated with sexual activity, such as unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV. Young African-American girls represent just one segment of the population engaging in early sexual activity, but rates of teen pregnancy and HIV/AIDS are high among these girls. To better understand which girls might be most at risk for risky sexual behaviors, Carlye Kincaid of the Department of Psychology at the University of North Carolina recently conducted a study involving 39 African-American teenage girls.
The girls were divided into two groups; one reported a history of sexual activity, while the other had no history of sexual intercourse. The girls were presented with scenarios depicting sexually enticing scenarios, some involving drugs and alcohol. They were asked if they thought the character in the scenario would have sex. Kincaid found that the girls who had been sexually active were more likely to predict sexual activity in the scenario than the girls with no sexual background. “The most salient correlates of whether girls predicted a character would engage in sexual behavior were the scenarios involving alcohol use and threatened violence,” Kincaid said. This suggests that girls see a relationship between risk-taking behavior and sexual activity.
Although these predictions were more strongly evidenced in the girls with a history of sexual activity, they raise concern for African-American girls in general. Because teenagers of all races and ethnicities focus on immediate outcomes, such as the feelings they get from having sex, they often overlook the risks, especially when they are not immediate. Thus, being intimate with someone is an immediate reward, while pregnancy or disease is a subsequent and delayed risk. Kincaid believes that interventions aimed at reducing sexual risk taking in this group of individuals should focus on the risks in relation to rewards.
Kincaid, Carlye, Deborah Jones, Michelle Gonzalez, B. Payne, and Robert DeVellis. The role of implicit measurement in the assessment of risky behavior: A pilot study with African-American girls. Journal of Child and Family Studies 21.5 (2012): 799-806. Print.
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