Supportive friendships moderate the association between stressful life events and sexual risk taking among African American adolescents

Health Psychol. 2009 Mar;28(2):238-48. doi: 10.1037/a0013240.


Objective: This study examined whether uncontrollable stressful life events were associated with sexual risk taking among adolescents across a 1-year period, and whether supportive friendships modified associations.

Design: Participants were 159 sexually active African American adolescents (57% male; mean age [SD] = 17.0 [1.5] years at baseline). Participants were recruited for in-person interviews through random digit dialing in one inner-city neighborhood characterized by high rates of poverty and crime relative to the surrounding city.

Main outcome measures: Dependent variables included substance use before sexual activity and inconsistent condom use.

Results: Among adolescents who reported low levels of supportive friendships, uncontrollable stressors were associated with greater levels of sexual risk taking over time. In contrast, uncontrollable stressors were not associated with sexual risk taking among adolescents who reported high social support from friends; risk taking was typically moderate to high among these adolescents.

Conclusion: Different processes may explain sexual risk taking among adolescents with varying levels of social support from friends. Adolescents with low support may be prone to engagement in health risk behavior as a stress response, while adolescents with high support may engage in risk behavior primarily due to peer socialization of risk.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • African Americans / psychology*
  • African Americans / statistics & numerical data
  • Condoms
  • Female
  • Friends / psychology*
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Life Change Events*
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Sexual Behavior
  • Sexual Partners
  • Social Support*
  • Unsafe Sex / prevention & control
  • Unsafe Sex / psychology*
  • Unsafe Sex / statistics & numerical data
  • Urban Population*
  • Young Adult