Regulatory focus theory contends that when making decisions people are either more inclined to focus on avoiding negative consequences (more prevention-focused) or achieving pleasurable outcomes (more promotion-focused). Some research suggests that regulatory focus is related to health behaviors, although this has not been thoroughly investigated in the sexual health domain. The purpose of this study was to examine the relationship between regulatory focus (prevention, promotion) and sexual health. In an online survey of 409 youth from the U.S. (ages = 18–25; M age = 23.5; 57.2% women; 74.1% White, 13.4% Asian, 10.5% Black, 9.8% Hispanic), we examined the relationship between regulatory focus and three sexual health outcomes: condom use, STI/HIV testing, and sexual satisfaction. Of youth in our sample, 31.8% had a dominant prevention-focus, while 54.8% had a dominant promotion-focus. Compared to youth who were more promotion-focused, more prevention-focused youth used condoms more frequently but reported less sexual satisfaction. No differences were found in rates of STI/HIV testing. This study lays the groundwork to investigate the dynamic role that regulatory focus may play in contributing to youths’ sexual health. More experimental and longitudinal studies are needed to confirm the causal nature of the association between regulatory focus and sexual health.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Gender Studies
- Sociology and Political Science
- History and Philosophy of Science