Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Steven A. Cohen, DrPH, MPH

Second Advisor

Saba W. Masho, MD, MPH, DrPH

Third Advisor

Robert A. Perera, PhD

Fourth Advisor

Briana Mezuk, PhD

Fifth Advisor

River Pugsley, MPH, PhD


Background: Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are a major public health problem in the US, and have been linked to risky sexual behavior and psychopathology. However, studies examining the link between the wide range of ACEs and sexual health outcomes and behaviors, and the associated mediational role of psychopathology are lacking.

Objectives: The main objectives of this dissertation project were: 1) To determine the association between ACEs and sexual health outcomes and behaviors (early sexual debut, intimate partner violence (IPV) perpetration, and HIV/STIs); 2) To examine the disparities among selected populations; and 3) To assess the mediational role of psychopathology in the association between ACEs and sexual health.

Methods: Data were obtained from Wave 2 (2004-2005) of the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions. Logistic and linear regression models were used to determine the association between ACEs (neglect, physical/psychological abuse, sexual abuse, witnessing parental violence, and parental incarceration/psychopathology) and early age at sexual debut by sex and sexual orientation. Structural equation modeling (SEM) was used to determine the mediational role of psychopathology (PTSD, substance abuse, and depression) in the association between ACE constructs and IPV perpetration, and the role of psychopathology, early sexual debut and IPV perpetration in the association between ACEs and HIV/STIs.

Results: The association between ACEs and early sexual debut was generally stronger for women and sexual minorities. Among men, PTSD mediated the association between sexual abuse and IPV perpetration (z=0.004, p = 0.018). However, among men and women, substance abuse mediated the association between physical/psychological abuse and IPV perpetration: z=0.011, p=0.036 and z=0.008, p=0.049, respectively. Among men, PTSD mediated abuse (physical/psychological, and sexual) and parental incarceration/psychopathology; substance abuse mediated abuse and neglect; depression and early sexual debut mediated abuse; and IPV perpetration mediated sexual abuse, and HIV/STIs. Among women, substance abuse mediated neglect and physical/psychological abuse, and depression mediated physical/psychological abuse and HIV/STIs.

Conclusions: Intervention and prevention programs geared towards preventing sexual health outcomes and behaviors should employ a life course approach and address ACEs. Treatment components addressing PTSD, substance abuse, and depression should also be added to IPV perpetration and HIV/STI prevention programs.


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