Category: Adult Anxiety - Social
Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) is common among adolescents in the U.S. People with social interaction anxiety, a facet of SAD which relates to interactions with others, report decreased energy and increased behavioral inhibition. However, some individuals with social interaction anxiety engage in risky sexual behavior (RSB). This may be explained by individual differences in personality traits, such as sensation seeking. Sensation seeking, which is comprised of risk seeking (RS) and experience seeking (ES), is the seeking of new or varied experiences and the willingness to take risks to pursue such experiences. Because sensation seeking relates to RSB, RS and ES may account for the relation between social interaction anxiety and RSB.
The current study measured social interaction anxiety by the Social Interaction Anxiety Scale (SIAS); RS and ES by the Sensation Seeking Personality Type Scale; and RSB by the Risky Behavior Inventory. Participants were 1,001 undergraduate students involved in a larger study on predictors of health-risk behaviors. Latent Class Analysis was used to discern distinct profiles of engagement in RSB. One- through five-class models were run using Mplus version 7.2. RSB that were rarely endorsed were dropped from the model, with numbers of oral sex partners, vaginal sex partners, unprotected vaginal sex partners, and under-protected vaginal sex partners, all in the past 12 months included in the final model. The final solution favored a two-class model, representing engagement and non-engagement in RSB. We tested SIAS as a predictor of class membership, which significantly negatively predicted engagement (B = -0.025, p < .001) and significantly positively predicted non-engagement (B = 0.025, p < .001). Lastly, we tested for differences in class membership by adding RS and ES as auxiliary variables in the model. Holding SIAS constant, people who engaged in RSB had significantly higher mean scores on RS (25.6) and ES (40.72) than people who did not engage (RS= 23.83, p < .001; ES = 39.86, p = .017).
Because engagement in RSB may prevent people with social interaction anxiety from being diagnosed with SAD, this study has implications for diagnosis and treatment. Our results indicate that people with social interaction anxiety are likely to not engage in RSB. However, RS and ES account for engagement in RSB when holding social interaction anxiety constant. Thus, RS and ES explain the likelihood of engaging in RSB and may be an important area of clinical intervention. Recognizing RSB as an effect of RS and ES can help clinicians more accurately diagnose SAD and provide effective interventions to reduce both symptoms of SAD and engagement in RSB. However, the mean differences between RS and ES we found may be difficult to distinguish, potentially limiting the clinical utility of our findings with this specific sample. Further research is needed to investigate the effects of the mean differences in RS and ES.