Emory Report
September 20, 2004
Volume 57, Number 05


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September 20 , 2004
Positive self-concept linked to refusal of unsafe sex

by Tia Webster

Promoting a more positive self-concept may be the key for helping sexually active African American girls to refuse unwanted and unprotected sex, according to Emory researcher Laura Salazar. The new study, published in the September issue of the peer-reviewed journal Prevention Science, found that African American girls with stronger self-concepts were better communicators with their sex partners.

African American adolescent girls have higher rates of sexually transmitted diseases than Caucasian girls of the same age, said Salazar, research director in behavioral sciences and health education in the Rollins School of Public Health. And although adolescent girls grow into adulthood with certain self-concepts related to their own body image and self-esteem, the self-concepts of African American girls also are influenced by ethnic identity.

Researchers participating in the study analyzed data from a sample of 335 sexually active African American adolescent females. The sample was intended to represent a broad cross-section of adolescents residing in low-income neighborhoods, and data were collected from two adolescent medical clinics, four health department clinics and health classes from five high schools in Birmingham, Ala., through self-administered surveys and one-on-one assessments by trained interviewers.

“With sexually active girls, we tend to focus mainly on condom use. But it’s important to also look at the frequency with which these girls refuse unwanted and unprotected sex, and the factors that determine it,” Salazar said. “We found that having a positive total self-concept had a large effect on the girls’ communication abilities with their sex partners, which in turn influenced the frequency of sex refusal.”

Salazar also said the results suggest that intervention programs should incorporate issues around the girls’ self-concepts (body image and self-esteem), in addition to teaching them communication skills. She is considering a follow-up study to include interactive and didactic discussions, and examinations of the portrayal of African American women in the media, especially music videos.

“In building the self-concepts of the adolescents, it’s important to consider how they perceive themselves,” Salazar said. “How does what they see affect how they feel and how they are treated? What messages do they see and hear?”

The study was funded by a grant from the Center for Mental Health Research on AIDS of the National Institute of Mental Health.