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Frequency of Adolescent Self-Cutting as a Predictor of HIV Risk

Brown, Larry K. MD; Houck, Christopher D. PhD; Grossman, Cynthia I. PhD; Lescano, Celia M. PhD; Frenkel, Jennifer L. BA

Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics: June 2008 - Volume 29 - Issue 3 - p 161-165
doi: 10.1097/DBP.0b013e318173a587
Original Article
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Objective: A wide range exists in the frequency of adolescent self-cutting behavior; however, the implications of this variability are relatively unexplored. Although evidence suggesting a relationship between self-harm and sexual risk behaviors has been identified, little is known regarding the relationship between frequency of self-cutting and sexual risk. The present study aimed to test the hypothesis that adolescents who repeatedly self-cut would report more HIV risk behaviors and riskier attitudes than those who had engaged in infrequent self-injury.

Method: Adolescents (11–18 years; mean age, 15 years) from intensive psychiatric treatment programs with a history of self-cutting (N = 105, 53% female) completed measures of self-cutting, sexual risk behaviors, and risk attitudes.

Results: Frequent self-cutting (more than three times, lifetime) was associated with being sexually active, using condoms inconsistently, and sharing cutting instruments. Frequent self-cutters were significantly more likely to be female and nonwhite, and report low self-restraint. They also showed a trend toward being more likely to have a history of sexual abuse.

Conclusions: This study found important differences in self-cutters based on frequency of cutting. Adolescent self-cutting may be a spectrum of behavior that ranges from habitual, repeated behavior contrasted with infrequent, experimental, socially motivated cutting. The associations between frequent cutting, sexual risk, and low self-restraint suggest that common underlying mechanisms may determine these patterns.

From the Bradley/Hasbro Children's Research Center, Rhode Island Hospital, and Warren Alpert Medical School at Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island.

See related commentary on page 216.

Received April 2007; accepted March 2008.

Research supported by NIMH grant R01 MH61149.

Address correspondence to: Larry K. Brown, M.D., Bradley/Hasbro Children's Research Center, One Hoppin Street, Suite 204, Providence, RI 02903; e-mail: lkbrown@lifespan.org.

© 2008 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.