Feelings Matter: Depression Severity and Emotion Regulation in HIV/STI Risk-Related Sexual Behaviors

Bridgette M. Brawner, Loretta Sweet Jemmott, Gina Wingood, Janaiya Reason, Bridget Daly, Kiahana Brooks, Yzette Lanier

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)/sexually transmitted infection (STI) prevention models may not address psychological complexities among adolescents with mental illnesses. This study examined contextual factors related to HIV/STI risk among heterosexually active Black adolescents with mental illnesses to inform the development of targeted HIV/STI prevention strategies. Black adolescent males and females (aged 14–17) were recruited from outpatient mental health programs in Philadelphia, PA to complete a computer-assisted personalized interview on sociodemographics, sexual behaviors, and emotion regulation (N = 53). Two sample t-tests, Wilcoxon Rank Sum tests and regression modeling were used to examine differences in the study measures by gender and relationship status. Reports of sexual partner concurrency were high—both while already in a sexual relationship (67.3%) and multiple sexual partners in the same day (42.3%). Boys reported significantly more risk behaviors than girls. Sadness dysregulation predicted currently being in a relationship, older age at first oral sex, fewer vaginal sexual partners and fewer unprotected oral sexual encounters. Coping difficulties predicted a greater number of vaginal and oral sexual partners, and a lower age at first vaginal sex. Increasing depression severity was related to older age at first vaginal sex, fewer vaginal sexual partners and fewer unprotected oral sexual encounters in the past 3 months. This formative work suggests that coping mechanisms should be addressed in HIV/STI prevention research through the inclusion of activities targeted toward emotion regulation and decreasing sexual risk behaviors. Psycho-education and skills building may mitigate the psychopathology that contributes to HIV/STI risk in the target demographic.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1635-1645
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Child and Family Studies
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1 2017



  • Adolescents
  • Depression
  • Emotion regulation
  • HIV prevention
  • Sexual partner concurrency

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Life-span and Life-course Studies

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