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Mental Health Center

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Self-Cutting Linked to Risky Teen Sex

Study Shows Risky Sexual Behavior Reported More Often Among Frequent Self-Cutters

Self-Cutting and Sexual Risk continued...

Their attempt to answer this question resulted in the new research, which appears in the June issue of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics.

Of the 293 teens who took part in their 2005 study, 105 had a history of self-cutting. Just over half of these patients (53%) were female, 88% were white, and 48% had a primary diagnosis of a mood disorder.

Roughly 39% of the self-cutters had cut four or more times, with the average number of episodes in these frequent cutters being 19.

Nearly three-quarters of the frequent cutters were female, and more than a quarter were nonwhite -- a surprising finding, the researchers say, given the fact that almost nine out of 10 cutters were white.

Sixty-eight percent of the teens reported being sexually active, but only 40% of the sexually active frequent cutters reported consistent condom use, compared with 70% of the non-frequent cutters. And 12% of sexually active frequent cutters reported having had a sexually transmitted infection, compared with 5% of non-habitual cutters.

"All of these kids had psychiatric disorders, so they were at high risk to begin with," Brown says. "The fact that [habitual cutting] identified a group that is at even greater [sexual] risk is very interesting."

Self-Cutting and Emotional Distress

Psychologist Lori G. Plante, PhD, tells WebMD that it is not a big surprise that habitual cutters are also at high risk for other risk-taking behaviors.

An assistant clinical professor at Stanford Medical School, Plante is also author of the 2007 book, Bleeding to Ease the Pain: Cutting, Self-Injury, and the Adolescent Search for Self.

"Habitual cutting is a way of managing intense emotional distress," she says. "It makes sense that the level of impulsivity and risk taking would also be higher in these teens."

The finding that many teens try cutting only a few times and abandon the practice also comes as no surprise to Plante.

"I have seen many, many kids who are brought to see me because of cutting who never cut again," she says. "There is some level of social contagion in this, with kids trying it because their friends are."

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