Sexual Risk Among African American Girls Seeking Psychiatric Care: A Social-Personal Framework

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Objective: This study examined individual and social factors associated with sexual risk behavior among African American girls seeking outpatient mental health services across 2 years and key developmental transitions. Method: African American females 12–16 years old (M = 14.5; SD = 1.15; n = 266) were recruited from eight outpatient mental health clinics and completed interviewer-administered and computer-assisted measures at baseline, 12, and 24 months. Analyses tested individual attributes (externalizing and internalizing problems) and family context (maternal acceptance-rejection, mother-daughter communication about sex) at baseline, peer influences (peer support of substance use, girlfriend dating behavior) and partner relationship characteristics (rejection sensitivity, partner risk communication frequency and openness) at 12 months, and girls’ sexual behavior at 24 months. Results: At baseline, 32% of girls reported having had vaginal/anal sex compared with 60% at 24 months. Data analyses revealed robust associations between externalizing problems and maternal acceptance-rejection and mother-daughter risk communication during early adolescence, peer support of substance use and girlfriend dating behavior 1 year later, and girls’ sexual risk taking 2 years later. Conclusion: Findings support a social-personal framework (SPF) of sexual risk for African American girls seeking mental health care, underscoring the potential benefits of early intervention to reduce externalizing problems while strengthening mother-daughter communication and relationships to prevent subsequent sexual risk and associated negative outcomes.

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