University of Pennsylvania, United States
Implications for Psychoeducation to Reduce HIV/STI Risk among Adolescents

Dr. Bridgette M. Brawner is an Assistant Professor of Nursing in the Department of Family and Community Health at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing. She is passionate about urban women’s physical and mental health, and works toward sexual health promotion in disenfranchised communities. Her motto is “changing the world, one community at a time”. She uses research as an advocacy tool to ensure that underserved populations have the required resources to reach their full health potential. Dr. Brawner’s unique, multi-method lines of inquiry integrate innovative methodologies—such as GIS mapping and biobehavioral measures—to answer complex questions. Her current HIV prevention work takes a novel, multi-level approach to better understand risk contexts and intervene across individual, social and structural levels. She is a nationally recognized expert in psychiatric-mental health, intervention development, adolescent health, and HIV prevention. Dr. Brawner has received several prestigious awards and honors in recognition of her distinguished scholarship.

Youth dealing with the psychopathology of mental illnesses are at increased risk for sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV. Cognitive deficits, impulsivity and using sex as a means to mitigate distress may partially explain increased rates of HIV/STI risk-related sexual behaviors. The behaviors include noncondom use, multiple sexual partners, and sex under the influence of drugs and alcohol. While HIV/STI psycho-education and skills building has the potential to mitigate the psychopathology of mental illness that contributes to HIV/STI risk (e.g., sadness and difficulty coping), few studies have examined the effect of these strategies. This symposium will highlight the potential to use intergenerational, psychoeducational skills building interventions to help youth decrease their HIV/STI risk. There are also other key factors to consider in sexual health promotion for youth. For example, youth who initiate sex early are more likely to experience a trajectory of risk and health compromise that includes, multiple partners, greater susceptibility to HIV, other STIs, and unintended pregnancy. Although parents/guardians, and particularly fathers, involvement has critical benefits for adolescents, the role of parents and guardians in sexual health communication is significantly underrepresented in studies of adolescent sexual practices. Moreover, and from a strengths-based perspective, there is a need to expand research approaches to include the ways that sexual self-concept may provide a basis for healthy (non-risky) sexual outcomes.  Additional research is needed to examine subjective aspects of sexuality, such as an adolescent’s comfort with his/her own sexuality and his/her ability to assert needs and desires to a partner. The transdisciplinary presenters share unique insights from their programs of research at the cutting edge of psychology, nursing, and public health. From a social determinants of health perspective, consideration is also given to the role of socioeconomic status, neighborhood environment and family structure in adolescent sexual health.