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Perspect Sex Reprod Health. 2011 Mar;43(1):16-22. doi: 10.1363/4301611. Epub 2010 Nov 23.

Childhood abuse and neglect and the risk of STDs in early adulthood.

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  • 1Department of Maternal and Child Health and the Carolina Population Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, USA.



Given the threat posed by STDs in young adulthood, identifying early predictors of STD risk is a priority. Exposure to childhood maltreatment has been linked to sexual risk behaviors, but its association with STDs is unclear.


Associations between maltreatment by parents or other adult caregivers during childhood and adolescence and STD outcomes in young adulthood were examined using data on 8,922 respondents to Waves 1, 3 and 4 of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. Four types of maltreatment (sexual abuse, physical abuse, supervision neglect and physical neglect) and two STD outcomes (self-reported recent and test-identified current STD) were assessed. Multivariate logistic regression analyses, stratified by sex, tested for moderators and mediators.


Among females, even after adjustment for socioeconomic and demographic characteristics, self-report of a recent STD was positively associated with sexual abuse (odds ratio, 1.8), physical abuse (1.7), physical neglect (2.1) and supervision neglect (1.6). Additionally, a positive association between physical neglect and having a test-identified STD remained significant after further adjustments for exposure to other types of maltreatment and sexual risk behaviors (1.8). Among males, the only association (observed only in an unadjusted model) was between physical neglect and test-identified STD (1.6).


Young women who experienced physical neglect as children are at increased risk of test-identified STDs in young adulthood, and exposure to any type of maltreatment is associated with an elevated likelihood of self-reported STDs. Further research is needed to understand the behavioral mechanisms and sexual network characteristics that underlie these associations.

Copyright © 2010 by the Guttmacher Institute.

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