A Longitudinal Examination of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms and Risky Sexual Behavior: Evaluating Emotion Dysregulation Dimensions as Mediators

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Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has been linked to a wide array of risky and health-compromising behaviors, including risky sexual behavior (RSB). Cross-sectional studies reveal positive associations between emotion dysregulation and both PTSD and RSB. This study extended that work by exploring whether intermediate levels of emotion dysregulation across multiple dimensions account for the relation between baseline PTSD symptoms and RSB (i.e., number of vaginal sex partners, number of instances of condomless sex, and number of instances of risky/impulsive sex) 16 months later. Participants were 447 trauma-exposed young adult women from the community (60.0% White; M age = 21.80 years) who completed five assessments (separated by 4-month increments) over a 16-month period. Baseline PTSD symptoms were significantly positively associated with all emotion dysregulation dimensions at 8 months and the number of instances of risky/impulsive sex at 16 months. Further, results revealed significant indirect effects of baseline PTSD symptoms on (1) 16-month vaginal sex partners through both the nonacceptance of negative emotions and difficulties controlling impulsive behaviors when distressed at 8-month and (2) 16-month risky/impulsive sex through difficulties engaging in goal-directed behaviors when distressed at 8 months. Results provide support for the mediating roles of nonacceptance of negative emotions and difficulties controlling behaviors when distressed in the relation between PTSD symptoms and later RSB.

Publication Title, e.g., Journal

Archives of Sexual Behavior