Promoting a more positive "self-concept" may be the key for helping sexually active African-American girls to refuse unwanted and unprotected sex, says Emory University researcher Laura Salazar, Ph.D. The new study, to be 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.
Dr. Salazar, a research director in the Department of Behavioral Sciences and Health Education, Rollins School of Public Health, Emory University, says that African-American adolescent girls have higher rates of sexually transmitted diseases than Caucasian girls of the same age. And although adolescent girls transition into adulthood with certain self-concepts that are related to their own body image and self-esteem, the self-concepts of African-American girls are also 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 was collected from two adolescent medical clinics, four health department clinics and health classes from five high schools in Birmingham, Alabama. The data collection consisted of a self-administered survey and a one-on-one assessment by a trained interviewer.
"With sexually active girls we tend to focus mainly on condom use. But it's important to also look at the frequency in which these girls refuse unwanted and unprotected sex, and the factors that determine it," Dr. Salazar says. "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."
Dr. Salazar also says 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 also considering a follow-up study to include interactive and didactic discussions, and examinations of the portrayal of African-American women in the media, especially videos.
"In building the self-concepts of the adolescents, it's important to consider how they perceive themselves," Dr. Salazar says. "How does what they see effect 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.