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Problem solving reduces sexual risk associated with sensation seeking, substance use, and depressive symptoms among African-American adolescents


African-American adolescents experience higher rates of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) compared to same-age Caucasian peers. Substance use, sensation seeking, and depression have all been linked to risky sexual practices. Theory suggests that problem-solving skills may help to buffer against these risk factors. To test this hypothesis, we used data from African-American adolescents (N = 1,018; M age = 16.7, SD = 1.1; 58% female) who participated in a prevention trial. Nearly half of the sample (47%) reported lifetime marijuana use, while 13% reported drug use prior to most recent sexual encounter. Sexual sensation seeking was directly associated with drug use prior to sex (β = 1.13, b = 0.13, SE = 0.02, p < .001) and lower problem-solving skills (β = –0.08, b = –0.06, SE = 0.02, p = .01). Problem-solving skills were associated with drug use prior to sex (β = 0.92, b = −0.08, SE = 0.03, p = .004), such that those with greater problem-solving skills were less likely to report drug use prior to most recent sex. Finally, problem-solving skills mediated the association between sexual sensation seeking and drug use prior to sex, although the effect was small (β = 0.01, 95% CI: .001, .01). Problem-solving skills can have a protective influence on risky behavior for adolescents. Future research might examine the utility of strengthening problem-solving skills in order to reduce STI/HIV risk among African-American adolescents.


  • Eugene M. Dunne
  • Alyssa L. Norris
  • Daniel Romer
  • Ralph J. DiClemente
  • Peter A. Vanable
  • Robert F. Valois
  • Larry K. Brown
  • Michael P. Carey