Academic journal article Journal of School Health

The Association of Childhood Personality on Sexual Risk Taking during Adolescence

Academic journal article Journal of School Health

The Association of Childhood Personality on Sexual Risk Taking during Adolescence

Article excerpt

According to results from the 2005 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey (YRBSS), 37% of currently sexually active high school students did not use a condom during last sexual intercourse and only 17% reported using the pill as contraception. (1) This type of sexual risk taking is associated with a number of adverse health and socioeconomic outcomes such as sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and unplanned pregnancies. Indeed, approximately 25% of the cases of STIs reported in the United States each year is among adolescents and the United States has one of the highest rates of STI among adolescents of industrialized countries. (2,3) Moreover, while adolescent pregnancy and birth rates have declined in the United States over the past few decades, adolescents in the United States are much more likely than adolescents in other industrialized nations to become parents. For example, the birth rate for adolescents between the ages of 15 and 19 is 54.4 per 1000 in the United States and 4 per 1000 in Japan. (4)

The differences in rates of STI and birth rates between adolescents in the United States and other industrialized countries are not due to differences in sexual activity because the sexual activity patterns of teens in industrialized countries are similar. However, adolescents in countries like the United States are more likely than their counterparts in other countries to engage in risky sexual behaviors that have been shown to increase the transmission of disease and the likelihood of pregnancy. (5)

National data show that there are demographic variations in the extent to which adolescents engage in risky sexual behavior. For example, findings from the YRBSS indicate that among sexually active adolescents, blacks were more likely than whites and Hispanics to use condoms during last sexual intercourse and whites were more likely than Hispanics and blacks to use oral contraceptives prior to last sexual intercourse. (1) Socioeconomic characteristics such as maternal education, family structure, and household income are also correlated with high-risk sexual behaviors during adolescence. (6-8) The influence of psychological processes like personality on sexual risk taking, the focus of this study, has received far less attention. (5) Personality is the distinctive and unique pattern of thinking, feeling, and behaving that influences how individuals respond to different situations and, consequently, ought to influence the decision to use condoms and other forms of contraception. (9)

One difference between this study and the handful of the other studies that have investigated whether personality influences sexual risk taking is that a longitudinal design is used to investigate the association of childhood personality to risky sexual behavior and decision making in late adolescence. Measuring personality in early childhood, long in advance of risky sexual behavior, ensures that personality is a precursor rather than a result of risky sexual behavior.

An additional contrast between this study and the few studies that have explored how personality is associated with sexual risk taking is that those studies have focused on how specific personality traits such as conventionality and self-regulation influence sexual behavior. (10,11) A weakness of this approach is that studying personality traits in isolation ignores individuals' standing on other personality factors that may intensify, weaken, or cancel the effect of the single factor under study. (6,12) For example, it is possible to imagine that an individual who has difficulty regulating impulses and scores high on a trait dimension representing neuroticism would be less likely to take sexual risks than a peer who has difficulty regulating impulses and scores low on the trait of neuroticism. The typeness approach used in the present study focuses on individuals who are categorized into one of three groups based on their particular configuration of personality traits during childhood. …

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