222572 Exploring the relationship between genetic stigma and sexual decision-making among college students

Monday, November 8, 2010 : 9:15 AM - 9:30 AM

Heather Honoré Goltz, PhD, LMSW , Houston VA HSR&D Center of Excellence, Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center, Houston, TX
Sandra Acosta, PhD(c) , Department of Educational Psychology, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX
Marsha Honoré-Jones, BS , Utah Developmental Disability Council, State of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT
Lei-Shih Chen, PhD, PT, CHES , Department of Health and Kinesiology, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX
David Latini, PhD , Houston VA HSR&D Center of Excellence, Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center, Houston, TX
Patricia Goodson, PhD , Department of Health & Kinesiology, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX
Introduction: Although the relationship between disease-specific risk perceptions and sexual intentions has been previously studied, fewer studies have explored the relationship between individual genetic/genomic risk perceptions and these intentions. College students are at an age when many typically enter long-term dating or marriage, thus, this mixed-methods study examined the relationship between genetic risk perceptions and sexual decision-making in this population.

Method: This study contained qualitative (8 focus groups; n=86) and quantitative (survey; n=2,576) phases. Participants were primarily young, female college students. We asked participants how genetic/genomic risk might affect their sexual decision-making and assessed responses using content analysis. We later developed hypothetical scenarios (i.e., individuals with unknown genotype, asymptomatic carrier status, symptomatic carrier status, genetic/genomic-related physical disabilities, genetic/genomic-related mental disorders, and any genetic/genomic disorder) and used descriptive analyses to examine sexual intentions.

Results: Qualitative-phase participants expressed polarized attitudes concerning dating/marrying individuals having personal/familial histories of mental or physical health issues; these were considered “genetic” and stigmatized. Survey respondents were more likely to have dating intentions towards unknown genotype (70.5%), asymptomatic (49.6%) and symptomatic (21.8%) carriers, or any genetic disorder (22.4%) than those perceived to have physical (16.2%) or mental (8.6%) issues. Marital intentions decreased markedly across scenarios.

Conclusion: Our mixed data show similar patterns: negative attitudes and lower dating/marital intentions towards individuals with genetic/genomic disorders. With increased genetic/genomic test availability, caution must be taken to avoid genetic/genomic stigma and discrimination. Additional research is necessary to determine psychosocial factors influencing the perceived genetic risk-intentions relationship and develop psycho-educational and stigma-reducing interventions.

Learning Areas:
Advocacy for health and health education
Diversity and culture
Public health or related education
Public health or related research
Social and behavioral sciences

Learning Objectives:
1. Describe at least 5 actual or perceived genetic/genomic conditions that are stigmatized in sexual decision-making. 2. Discuss implications of genetic/genomic stigma for sexual and reproductive health among college students and others of reproductive age. 3. Identify at least 3 strategies for reducing stigma in this population.

Keywords: Genetics, Ethics

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I am the Principal Investigator for this study. Specifically, I led data collection and analysis and am first author on manscuripts from the qualitative and quantitative databases. In terms of academic preparation, I am a doctorally-trained health educator and a masters-level social worker.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.