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Optimism and Perceived Vulnerability in Risky Sexual Behaviors: Implications for Women's Attitudes and Health

6 June 2006


Research is currently unclear on whether the psychosocial variables of optimism, pessimism and perceived vulnerability are related to how effectively women protect themselves against STDs and unplanned pregnancy. Increased understanding of psychosocial variables that contribute to behaviors resulting in STD infection and unplanned pregnancy may result in effective intervention strategies to promote women's sexual health. By and large, optimism is associated with positive coping strategies, less psychological distress and positive health attitudes and behaviuors (Carver, Scheier & Weintraub, 1989; Scheier,. Weintraub, & Carver, 1986). Ironically, research also indicates a positive relationship between optimism and sexual risk-taking among heterosexual and gay men (Hardeman, Pierro, & Manneti, 1996; Elford, Bolding, & Sherr, 2002) and low-levels of perceived vulnerability among high school and college students is also positively associated with sexual risk taking (Clark et al., 1998; Lynch et al., 2000; Sieving et al., 1997). The present study measured levels of optimism and pessimism using the Life Orientation Test (Scheier, Carver, & Bridges, 1994), expected outcomes with the Perceived Vulnerability Questionnaire (Ey et al., 1999) and sexual behaviors using the Sexual History Questionnaire (Cupitt, 1992) in a stratified sample of female clients from Planned Parenthood clinics in Portland, Oregon. Results did not indicate a significant relationship between optimism, pessimism and perceived vulnerability with risky sexual health behaviors.


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