Emotional Dysregulation and Risky Sex Among Incarcerated Women with a History of Interpersonal Violence

Caroline Kuo, Jennifer Johnson, Rochelle K. Rosen, Wendee Wechsberg, Robyn L. Gobin, Madhavi K. Reddy, Marlanea Peabody, Caron Zlotnick

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Incarcerated women, in comparison to nonincarcerated women, are at high risk for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and many have experienced interpersonal violence. The psychological construct of emotional dysregulation—which includes heightened intensity of emotions, poor understanding of emotions, negative reactivity to emotion state, inability to control behaviors when experiencing emotional distress, and maladaptive emotion management responses—is a possible pathway to explain the link between interpersonal violence exposure and STI risk. The present study examined maladaptive emotion management responses for emotional dysregulation (i.e., avoidance and numbing, and dissociation) occurring in the context of risky sexual behavior. We collected qualitative data from 4 focus groups with a sample of n = 21 incarcerated women (aged 18+ years) from urban facilities in New England. Qualitative data were analyzed using a thematic analysis approach. Findings indicated that incarcerated women reported engaging in a variety of maladaptive responses for emotion management during sexual encounters. These maladaptive responses for emotion management appear to increase sexual risk behaviors and alter women’s ability to implement STI protective behaviors, such as sexual negotiation and condom use. Preventive interventions to reduce sexual risk behaviors should incorporate strategies to promote emotional regulation among incarcerated women with histories of interpersonal violence.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)796-815
Number of pages20
JournalWomen and Health
Issue number8
StatePublished - Nov 15 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • HIV risk
  • emotional dysregulation
  • incarcerated
  • interpersonal violence
  • prison
  • women

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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