Personality Traits That Increase Risky Sexual Behavior

Personality Traits That Increase Risky Sexual Behavior

Risky sexual behavior is defined as any sexual activity that puts one both sexual partners at risk for unwanted pregnancy, HIV, sexually transmitted infections or sexual assault.

This can include risks to physical health such as failure to use birth control or condoms, having sex with a partner of unknown health status, having anonymous sex, being in situations where risk of sexual assault is increased. Risky sexual behavior can also include behaviors that put emotional wellbeing at risk such as an affair. Risky sexual behavior is usually a rash, unplanned sexual encounter where the person is not thinking clearly and making rational decisions.

People Who Engage in Risky Sexual Behavior

  • Are more likely to be under the influence of alcohol which lowers inhibitions.
  • Are more likely to be under the influence of illegal drugs which also lowers inhibitions.
  • Are more likely to be in an intensely positive mood state.
  • Have been shown to exhibit the trait of Positive Urgency-which is the tendency to act rashly when experiencing a positive effect.
  • Have reported low self-efficacy.
  • Have issues with Power, either having to be in control and powerful or being submissive to the person in power.
  • Tend to show signs of impulsivity.

Further, people who show signs of being neurotic tend to engage in risky sexual behaviors as a method of coping with negative emotional states. The other side of the coin can be found in extroverted persons who may engage in risky sexual behavior in order to enhance their positive emotions-to keep their emotional high.

Self-esteem is a major contributing factor to risky sexual behavior. Persons with low self-esteem are less confident about negotiating condom use, less likely to insist on protected sex and more likely to use drugs and alcohol. It can also be more difficult to reveal their own health and HIV status to potential sexual partners for fear of rejection.

Agreeableness, which is defined as being friendly, trusting, tolerant and generous has been shown to be positively correlated with risky health behavior including sexual behavior. Further, one study reported that lower rates of shyness and higher levels of emotional instability expressed at an earlier age were predictors of engaging in risky behaviors. So, it appears it may be something that is learned early in life which presents a greater challenge when determining the best way to change negative behavior.

These factors all contribute to the debate about whether behavior is learned, in innate or can be a combination of the two. If indeed, some personality characteristics that are biological in origin contribute to the likelihood of someone engaging in risky sexual behavior, where does that leave these persons when it comes to the ability to change these characteristics and thereby change their behavior?

Whether it is nature or nurture, for each person on sexual health and wellbeing, they should take steps to limit behaviors that may put them at risk for unprotected sex.


Written by Mark Riegel, MD

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