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22 March 2007
Adolescents Freaked Out By Condoms
by George Atkinson

Adolescents and young adults now account for half of all new HIV infections, so health authorities are keen to identify the factors that might drive unsafe sex practices in this age group. As it turns out, researchers from the Bradley Hasbro Children's Research Center and Brown University have identified mixed-up emotions as one of the reasons why teenagers forsake condoms.

Studying adolescents between the ages of 13 and 18 with psychiatric disorders, the researchers found that feelings do matter when it comes to making decisions about safe sex. Specifically, the researchers say that lack of self-efficacy is a powerful barrier to condom use. Self-efficacy is like self-confidence, and can be defined as a person's beliefs about his own capabilities to produce change in his life. In the study, the authors found that teens with higher self-efficacy about condom use (i.e. they felt that they could effectively use condoms) were more likely to use them even when feeling upset, bad about themselves, depressed or angry.

Importantly, the study has wider implications for all teens engaging in sexual behavior because difficulty with distress during condom use is not confined to those who are clinically depressed, the authors note. "As it turns out, managing the stresses associated with condom use is important. Adolescents can learn to decrease their anxiety about discussing and using condoms in order to use them safely and effectively," explains study author Celia Lescano.

Previous studies have shown that adolescents suffering from psychological distress may become overwhelmed in sexual situations because of relationship concerns, previous traumatic sexual experiences or low self-esteem.

While most HIV prevention interventions focus on acquiring practical behavioral skills like how to use a condom, the Lescano suggests that the role of emotions in health behaviors - specifically condom use - should not be overlooked. "Helping teens decrease distress and increase their effective skills is a critical component to HIV prevention strategies," says Lescano.

Related articles:
Many Teenagers Clueless About Condoms, Survey Finds
Errors In Condom Use Behind Increased STD Infections?
Social Expectations Frustrating Safe Sex Message

Source: Journal of Prevention and Intervention in the Community

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