The Role of Social Stressors in High-Risk Sexual Behaviors

A Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award (NRSA) for Individual Predoctoral Fellows (F31)

Recipient: Christopher Nettles

Funded by the National Institute of Mental Health

Grant number: 5F31MH086370

Abstract:

Two years funding for training support to further develop the research proficiency of the applicant, in order to become an independent researcher in the field of HIV prevention among ethnic and sexual minorities using emerging internet data collection procedures and systems science approaches. This training is significant because ethnic and sexual minorities often encounter environmental stressors including loss, rejection, or discrimination, that place them at increased risk for emotional distress which is associated in turn with multiple problem behaviors, such as sexual risk behaviors. Furthermore, many in this population are difficult to reach with traditional research methods. This is a public health concern because such problem behaviors are closely linked to increased morbidity and mortality for conditions such as sexually transmitted infections.

The applicant's training goals include:

(1) advanced training in the development and refinement of his self-regulatory failure model of high-risk sexual behavior;

(2) involvement in analysis of data and production of manuscripts using data from earlier research, and from the labs of the sponsors and consultant; and

(3) training in research methods relevant for piloting, refining, and implementing his dissertation research project.

The training plan to achieve these goals builds on the applicant's earlier work with populations at risk for engaging in high-risk sexual behavior, and brings together the expertise and resources of three funded investigators (sponsor Howe, cosponsor Zea, and consultant Benotsch), staging training activities and experiences in a sequence that will allow the applicant to develop the expertise necessary to become a productive, independent investigator when he completes his graduate program.

The applicant's specific research aims are to:

1) examine a self-regulatory model in which stressors associated with individuals' social environment (e.g., rejection, stigma, discrimination, etc.) contribute to sexual risk behaviors;

2) test for mediation of the relationship between social stressors and high-risk sexual behavior through the more proximal factor of negative affect;

3) test for moderation effects between negative affect and high-risk sexual behaviors of individual coping style and other individual vulnerabilities (such as sensation seeking).

A sample of men who have sex with men (MSM) will be collected from online venues to test self-regulatory failures associated with increases in social stressors.

The primary hypothesis is that social stressors will be positively associated with high-risk sexual behaviors and mediated by negative affect; furthermore, the relationship between the proximal factor (negative affect) and high-risk sexual behavior will be moderated by avoidant coping style and sensation seeking traits.