Adolescent Risk Environments: A Situation-Focused Approach

Eyre, Stephen L., Ph.D., UC San Francisco
Social and Behavioral

Unsupervised or ineffectively supervised adolescent parties are settings where adolescents can experiment with a number of risk behaviors. Of these, sexual behavior is of particular concern because of the possibility of HIV transmission. Our own previous research with adolescents, although not focused on parties, indicates that adolescent parties are a venue for sexual experimentation. Adolescent parties are an environment where ordinary decision-making is altered because of the unique sociocultural context and because of the use of intoxicants such as alcohol and marijuana. Alcohol consumption at adolescent parties impairs judgment and increases the likelihood that adolescents will have sexual encounters that one or both partners will later regret. At these parties, males encourage females to drink until they are partially unaware and lack judgment as a strategy for having intercourse. Sexually inexperienced adolescents may seek out sexual encounters with relative strangers at parties because they know that they will not have to deal with the social aftermath at school. According to accounts obtained in earlier studies, condom use during sex is less likely when sex occurs at a party. Adolescent sexual behavior at parties has not been studied largely because this behavior is difficult or impossible to observe. In the proposed research, we experiment with a newly developed Situation-Focused Interview that uses cognitive priming to increase the veracity of retrospective recall. We intend specifically to study 10th grade adolescent parties because other research we have conducted indicates that 10th grade is a period when adolescents are less likely to be in committed relationships and when they are likely to have a greater number of casual sexual partners. The specific aims of the research are 1) to document the social environment of the 10th grade adolescent party and 2) to document participant cognition and decision making in this setting. The study promises to provide information that will be useful in increasing the authenticity of health education messages promoting non-attendance at parties, sexual abstinence, or safe sexual behavior in this setting. The Situation-Focused Interview also promises to be useful in designing health education messages to reduce the risk of HIV infection in other settings where HIV infection is likely to occur.