Sexual risk-taking and subcortical brain volume in adolescence

Sarah W. Feldstein Ewing, Karen A. Hudson, Justin Caouette, Andrew R. Mayer, Rachel E. Thayer, Sephira G. Ryman, Angela D. Bryan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Background The developmental period of adolescence marks the initiation of new socioemotional and physical behaviors, including sexual intercourse. However, little is known about neurodevelopmental influences on adolescent sexual decision-making. Purpose We sought to determine how subcortical brain volume correlated with condom use, and whether those associations differed by gender and pubertal development. Methods We used FreeSurfer to extract subcortical volume among N = 169 sexually experienced youth (mean age 16.07 years; 31.95% female). We conducted multiple linear regressions to examine the relationship between frequency of condom use and subcortical volume, and whether these associations would be moderated by gender and pubertal development. Results We found that the relationship between brain volume and condom use was better accounted for by pubertal development than by gender, and moderated the association between limbic brain volume and condom use. No significant relationships were observed in reward areas (e.g., nucleus accumbens) or prefrontal cortical control areas. Conclusions These data highlight the potential relevance of subcortical socioemotional processing structures in adolescents' sexual decision-making.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)393-405
Number of pages13
JournalAnnals of Behavioral Medicine
Issue number5
StatePublished - Apr 19 2018


  • Adolescence
  • Condom use
  • Gender
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • Pubertal development

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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