Career Goal: I am committed to a career as a research scientist working at the intersection of psychology and public health. My goal is to contribute to both basic social science and prevention programs that improve adolescent sexual health and reduce the incidence of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), including HIV/AIDS. Career Development: This Pathway to Independence Award will enhance my methodological and statistical skills and provide the specific training that I need to transition from conducting research on the predictors of risky sexual behaviors that lead to HIV/STD transmission to designing and implementing effective HIV/STD prevention programs for adolescents. During the mentored training phase, my goals are to: 1) master methodological strategies for conducting school-based sexual health research;2) gain proficiency in the advanced statistics needed to analyze multi-wave longitudinal data;3) gain the skills necessary to design and implement an effective sexual health intervention;and 4) develop the skills, expertise, and pilot data to facilitate my successful transition from a mentored postdoctoral fellow into a fully independent research scientist. Research Project: In the U.S., youth between the ages of 15-24 years represent 25% of the sexually experienced population, yet they acquire a full 50% of all STDs. This results in over 9 million STDs and 8,300 newly diagnosed cases of HIV each year in this group, with teen girls at greater risk of infection than boys. The goal of the current project is t gain a more comprehensive understanding of the way that sexual communication, defined as the ability to discuss sexual health topics, such as condom use, HIV/STDs, and abstinence, may reduce acts of unprotected sex among teens. Then, using this updated understanding, I will incorporate sexual communication skills training into an innovative, computer-based HIV/STD prevention program for adolescent girls. The project objectives will be achieved through the following three Specific Aims: 1) examine adolescent sexual communication and condom use over time;2) develop an interactive, computer-based intervention to increase adolescent girls'sexual communication skills;and 3) assess the feasibility and preliminary efficacy of the sexual communication intervention in a randomized controlled trial. Mentorship: A highly accomplished, multidisciplinary team of experts from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill will mentor me in the initial two years of this award and provide ongoing guidance and support as I launch my independent career. This mentoring team includes two primary mentors: Dr. Mitch Prinstein (Department of Psychology) and Dr. Carol Golin (School of Public Health, Center for AIDS Research), and an outstanding scientific advisory committee: Dr. Daniel Bauer (Department of Psychology), Dr. Seth Noar (School of Journalism and Mass Communication), and Dr. Jane Brown (School of Journalism and Mass Communication). Future Directions: The skills achieved and the rich preliminary data from this proposal will directly support a future R01 application to conduct a full clinical trial of the sexual communication intervention.

Public Health Relevance

Adolescents who discuss sexual health topics, such as condom use, HIV/STDs, and abstinence, with their dating partners and friends are more likely to use condoms consistently than teens who do not communicate about sex. The proposed project will enhance our understanding of the sexual communication process and illuminate the relationship between sexual communication and condom use over the course of adolescence. This enhanced understanding will then be incorporated into an innovative, interactive sexual health intervention aimed at increasing sexual communication skills and decreasing unprotected sex for adolescent girls at risk of HIV and STDs.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Career Transition Award (K99)
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Behavioral and Social Science Approaches to Preventing HIV/AIDS Study Section (BSPH)
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Newcomer, Susan
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University of North Carolina Chapel Hill
Schools of Arts and Sciences
Chapel Hill
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McNulty, James K; Widman, Laura (2014) Sexual narcissism and infidelity in early marriage. Arch Sex Behav 43:1315-25
Widman, Laura; Noar, Seth M; Golin, Carol E et al. (2014) Incarceration and unstable housing interact to predict sexual risk behaviours among African American STD clinic patients. Int J STD AIDS 25:348-54
Widman, Laura; Nesi, Jacqueline; Choukas-Bradley, Sophia et al. (2014) Safe sext: adolescents' use of technology to communicate about sexual health with dating partners. J Adolesc Health 54:612-4
Widman, Laura; Noar, Seth M; Choukas-Bradley, Sophia et al. (2014) Adolescent sexual health communication and condom use: a meta-analysis. Health Psychol 33:1113-24
Choukas-Bradley, Sophia; Giletta, Matteo; Widman, Laura et al. (2014) Experimentally measured susceptibility to peer influence and adolescent sexual behavior trajectories: A preliminary study. Dev Psychol 50:2221-7