Personality pathways to unsafe sex: Personality, condom use, and HIV risk behaviors

Krista K. Trobst, Jeffrey H. Herbst, Henry L. Masters, Paul T. Costa

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

86 Scopus citations


Few studies have considered the importance of enduring personality characteristics in influencing health and HIV/AIDS risk behaviors. The current study examined relations between a comprehensive measure of personality, the Revised NEO Personality Inventory, and condom use and other HIV risk behaviors. The study sample consisted of 201 disadvantaged, primarily African American participants of an HIV risk reduction program in the Arkansas delta region. The sample was stratified into three risk groups. The low-risk group (n = 43) had 0% engaging in various risky sexual and substance use practices. Between 3% and 52% of the high-risk group (n = 62) engaged in these practices (e.g., shared needles, sex with partner who shoots drugs, received anal sex). The medium-risk group (n = 96) was intermediate. Results indicated that high Neuroticism, low Conscientiousness, and low Agreeableness are associated with HIV risk behaviors. Thus, high-risk behavior is associated with emotional distress, poor self-control, and hostile and antagonistic attitudes and behaviors. The high-risk group differed from the medium- and low-risk groups on the Neuroticism facet of Impulsiveness, indicating an inability to resist cravings and urges. The high-risk group also scored lower in Competence (i.e., feelings of self-efficacy), Self-Discipline (i.e., motivation to carry tasks through to completion), and Achievement Striving (i.e., aspiration levels). The current study, by identifying several personality traits that contribute to sexual risk behavior, raises important public health implications. Successful intervention in these AIDS-related behaviors may require interventions tailored to these basic tendencies. Such an approach may be a crucial element in attempts to lower HIV risk behavior.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number92334
Pages (from-to)117-133
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Research in Personality
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 1 2002
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Psychology(all)


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