Young women are at disproportionate risk of STIs and their consequences, with the highest rates of chlamydia and gonorrhea, as well as outcomes such as pelvic inflammatory disease, infertility and cervical cancer. This disease burden has a disparate on some groups of young women, such as racial/ethnic minorities and women of low socio-economic status. To date, most research and prevention programs have focused on individual- level predictors of sexual risk behavior measured at a single time point (e.g., behavioral intentions, attitudes). However, individuals'intentions to engage in risky or protective behaviors may vary across contexts and over the course of relationships. By applying a cutting-edge analytic technique to richly detailed, intensive longitudinal data, we will extend research on sexual risk behavior to address the relationship dynamics that influence these behaviors. This project will make use of data collected weekly from nearly 1,000 young women over 2.5 years, including detailed information about their relationships, sexual behavior, contraceptive use, attitudes and intentions. We will apply a novel analytic technique, the time-varying effect model, to understand women's sexual risk behavior over the course of the relationship with a sexual partner. This project has three specific aims. First, we will model patterns of young women's non-use of condoms over the course of sexual partnerships. Second, we will examine how women's intentions to use condoms differentially predict condom non-use over the course of sexual partnerships. Finally, we will delve into sources of disparities in sexual health outcomes by examining how these patterns of sexual risk behavior may differ by race/ethnicity, socioeconomic factors and urbanicity. By modeling how sexual risk behavior evolves over the course of a relationship, the proposed project will inform the creation of more effective prevention programs that are targeted to high risk populations and relationships contexts.

Public Health Relevance

This project will allow us to understand how sexual risk behavior evolves over the course of a sexual partnership, and how this evolution may help explain disparities in outcomes for minority and low-SES young women. By applying cutting-edge techniques to richly detailed intensive longitudinal data, we will reveal patterns of sexual risk behavior that will allow us to build prevention programs tailored to address the specific needs of high-risk populations and relationship contexts. Ultimately, this will reduce STI-related morbidity and mortality.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD)
Small Research Grants (R03)
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Developmental Biology Subcommittee (CHHD)
Program Officer
Newcomer, Susan
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Pennsylvania State University
Sch Allied Health Professions
University Park
United States
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Vasilenko, Sara A; Linden-Carmichael, Ashley; Lanza, Stephanie T et al. (2018) Sexual Behavior and Heavy Episodic Drinking Across the Transition to Adulthood: Differences by College Attendance. J Res Adolesc 28:473-487
Vasilenko, Sara A (2017) Age-varying associations between nonmarital sexual behavior and depressive symptoms across adolescence and young adulthood. Dev Psychol 53:366-378
Vasilenko, Sara A; Evans-Polce, Rebecca J; Lanza, Stephanie T (2017) Age trends in rates of substance use disorders across ages 18-90: Differences by gender and race/ethnicity. Drug Alcohol Depend 180:260-264
Vasilenko, Sara A; Kugler, Kari C; Rice, Cara E (2016) Timing of First Sexual Intercourse and Young Adult Health Outcomes. J Adolesc Health 59:291-297