Childhood maltreatment is a significant predictor of sexual risk taking. The nature of this relationship is not fully understood; however, emotion dysregulation may play an important role. We tested the role of difficulty identifying and describing feelings (i.e., alexithymia) on the relationship between childhood maltreatment and sexual risk taking. Specifically, we hypothesized two mechanisms, one in which alexithymia is related to sexual risk taking via negative urgency and alcohol use and a second one in which alexithymia is related to sexual risk taking via neediness. The participants for this study were 425 sexually active college undergraduates (303 females, 122 males) between the ages of 18 and 25 years. The results of a structural equation model indicated that alexithymia accounted for a significant part of the relationship between child maltreatment and sexual risk behavior. Moreover, the relationship between alexithymia and sexual risk taking was fully accounted for by two separate paths. First, negative urgency and subsequent alcohol use partially mediated the relationship, and the second effect was accounted for by needy interpersonal style. Adverse experiences during childhood can impair emotional functioning and contribute to behavioral and interpersonal dysregulation.
- Childhood maltreatment
- Emotion dysregulation
- Sexual risk taking
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)