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A new study published in the Journal of Psychology, Health & Medicine found that depression is linked to risky sexual practices among teen girls. Over a period of 12-months, Dr. Puja Seth and colleagues at Emory University examined the relationship between symptoms of depression and sexual behaviors in African-American girls. They found that girls who exhibited symptoms of depression were less likely to ask a partner to use a condom, were much more afraid to talk about condoms with a partner, had more sexual partners and were more likely to have intercourse while high on drugs or alcohol.

Other research has supported these findings. A study from the Journal of the Association of Nurses in AIDS Care examined depression and condom use attitudes and beliefs among African-American teen girls. This study also found that depressed teens were less likely to use condoms and that their attitudes and beliefs about condom use were the same as non-depressed teens. This means that the girls suffering from depression would forego the use of condoms even though they knew that condom use helped protect them from some of the risks of sexual intercourse.

What is it about depression that would prevent an educated teen from engaging in safe sex? One of the symptoms of depression is psychomotor retardation. This means that everyday activities are tiring, challenging and seemingly require great effort. A depressed teen girl might find purchasing condoms and talking to her partner about using them too overwhelming. Furthermore, her self-esteem may be lowered and she might not think that her health and well-being is worth the effort. Interviews with depressed girls also revealed that, for some, the fear of losing their partner prevented them from requiring a condom during sex.

These findings clearly illustrate the importance of treating depression in teenagers. Once the symptoms of depression subside, so may the risky sexual behaviors. In the meantime, it is of utmost importance that teen girls are screened for sexually transmitted infections and put on birth control if appropriate.

About the Author

Kathryn Stamoulis Ph.D.

Kathryn Stamoulis, Ph.D., teaches at psychology at Hunter College, and specializes in adolescent and sexual development.

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