Health risk behaviors and medical sequelae of childhood sexual abuse

Mayo Clin Proc. 1992 Jun;67(6):527-32. doi: 10.1016/s0025-6196(12)60458-3.


The relationship between childhood sexual abuse and subsequent health risk behaviors and medical problems was examined in 511 women who had used a family practice clinic in a rural midwestern community during a 2-year period (1988 and 1989). These women completed a questionnaire that assessed various health risk behaviors--smoking, drinking, drug abuse, number of sexual partners, and age at first intercourse--and a medical symptom checklist that assessed 38 medical problems related to major systems of body function, the somatization scale from the SCL-90, a screen for sexual abuse, and a brief measure of social support. The results indicated that sexually abused women, who represented 22.1% of the sample, reported significantly more medical problems, greater levels of somatization, and more health risk behaviors than did the nonabused women. More severe abuse (for example, penetration or multiple abusers) correlated with more severe problems. Extent of social support correlated inversely with the number of gynecologic problems reported in the sexually abused group. Fewer than 2% of the sexually abused women had discussed the abuse with a physician. To identify and assist victims of sexual abuse, physicians should become experienced with nonthreatening methods of eliciting such information when the medical history is obtained.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Child Abuse, Sexual / complications*
  • Child Abuse, Sexual / psychology
  • Disease / etiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Life Style*
  • Middle Aged
  • Risk-Taking*
  • Sexual Behavior
  • Smoking
  • Social Support
  • Somatoform Disorders / psychology