Risky Sexual Behavior and Childhood Sexual Abuse Linked With Substance Abuse

Posted on June 26th, 2012

Risky sexual behavior is often glorified in the media. Couples often unite in the heat of the moment, not giving a thought to their respective sexual history or the possibility of an unwanted pregnancy. When a scene shows a romantic interlude, there is no discussion about protecting against HIV or other sexually transmitted diseases.

The reality, however, is that these types of sexual behaviors carry significant risk of STDs or unwanted pregnancy. While the media often romanticizes the spontaneous meeting of two strangers, there are many problems that can result from this type of behavior that can affect not only the individuals but also create significant public health challenges.

A recent study sought to understand one major risk factor believed to be connected with risky sexual behaviors. Young adults who engage in risky sexual behaviors are often also found to struggle with substance abuse or dependency, which can increase the likelihood that risk taking will occur as a result of decreased inhibitions.

Previous studies have shown that childhood experiences, and specifically abuse, have been connected to later psychological disorders. Specifically sexual abuse, maltreatment and neglect during childhood have been connected to sexual risk taking in young adulthood.

Led by Assaf Oshri from the Department of Clinical and Social Sciences at the University of Rochester’s Mt. Hope Family Center located in New York, the study centered on examining risky sexual behavior patterns among 394 adolescents enrolled in an outpatient treatment program for substance abuse.

The researchers discovered that there were many different types risk factors that increased the chances of diagnosis of an STD and HIV. Two of the risk factors were directly connected to substance abuse and risky sexual behaviors. Oshri says that the findings were consistent with previous research that identified a link between childhood sexual abuse or neglect and certain psychological disorders, including substance use problems.

Oshri and colleagues believe that the results indicate that those teens that make it through childhood abuse lack the ability to learn adaptive coping skills, instead using drugs or alcohol to cope with emotional trauma. These types of behavior are linked to substance abuse and risky behaviors among teens that have endured childhood sexual abuse.

The researchers found that there was a greater connection between those who experienced childhood sexual abuse and alcohol dependency than there was for those who experienced sexual abuse and drug dependency, but the authors urge that the finding be used with caution. The authors stress that clinicians should take care to look at all aspects of a case, including the specific types of abuse an individual has experienced when attempting to treat substance abuse.

The findings are published in a recent edition of the American Journal of Public Health.

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