In-The-Moment Dissociation, Emotional Numbing, and Sexual Risk: The Influence of Sexual Trauma History, Trauma Symptoms, and Alcohol Intoxication

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Abstract

Objective: Prior research on the effects of sexual trauma has examined dissociation but not emotional numbing during sex and has relied exclusively on retrospective surveys. The present experiment examined associations among distal factors of childhood sexual abuse (CSA), adolescent/adult sexual assault (ASA), and trauma symptoms and the proximal factor of acute alcohol intoxication on in-the-moment dissociation, emotional numbing, and sexual risk intentions. Method: Young adult female drinkers (N = 436) at elevated sexual risk were randomized to receive alcohol (target peak breath alcohol concentration = .10%) or no alcohol. They then read an eroticized sexual scenario and reported on their dissociation and emotional numbing experiences, unprotected sex refusal self-efficacy, and unprotected sex intentions. Results: Path analysis revealed that CSA was indirectly associated with increased unprotected sex intentions through increased ASA severity, increased trauma-related symptoms, increased emotional numbing, and decreased unprotected sex refusal self-efficacy. Further, alcohol intoxication was indirectly associated with increased unprotected sex intentions through increased emotional numbing and decreased unprotected sex refusal self-efficacy. Conclusions: Emotional numbing, but not dissociation, was associated with unprotected sex intentions and may be 1 potential target for interventions aimed at reducing HIV/STI-related risk among women with a history of sexual trauma.

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