Psychiatric disorders and risky sexual behaviour in young adulthood: cross sectional study in birth cohort

BMJ 2000; 321 doi: (Published 29 July 2000) Cite this as: BMJ 2000;321:263
  1. Sandhya Ramrakha (sramrakha{at}, junior research fellowa,
  2. Avshalom Caspi, professorc,
  3. Nigel Dickson, senior research fellowb,
  4. Terrie E Moffitt, professorc,
  5. Charlotte Paul, associate professorb
  1. a Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Research Unit, Department of Preventive and Social Medicine, University of Otago Medical School, PO Box 913, Dunedin, New Zealand
  2. b Department of Preventive and Social Medicine, University of Otago Medical School
  3. c Institute of Psychiatry, Social, Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry Research Centre, London SE5 8AF
  1. Correspondence to: S Ramrakha
  • Accepted 25 April 2000


Objective: To determine if risky sexual intercourse, sexually transmitted diseases, and sexual intercourse at an early age are associated with psychiatric disorder.

Design: Cross sectional study of a birth cohort at age 21 years with assessments presented by computer (for sexual behaviour) and by trained interviewers (for psychiatric disorder).

Setting: New Zealand in 1993-4.

Participants: 992 study members (487 women) from the Dunedin multidisciplinary health and development study. Complete data were available on both measures for 930 study members.

Main outcome measures: Psychiatric disorders (anxiety, depression, eating disorder, substance dependence, antisocial disorder, mania, schizophrenia spectrum) and measures of sexual behaviour.

Results: Young people diagnosed with substance dependence, schizophrenia spectrum, and antisocial disorders were more likely to engage in risky sexual intercourse, contract sexually transmitted diseases, and have sexual intercourse at an early age (before 16 years). Unexpectedly, so were young people with depressive disorders. Young people with mania were more likely to report risky sexual intercourse and have sexually transmitted diseases. The likelihood of risky behaviour was increased by psychiatric comorbidity.

Conclusions: There is a clear association between risky sexual behaviour and common psychiatric disorders. Although the temporal relation is uncertain, the results indicate the need to coordinate sexual medicine with mental health services in the treatment of young people.


  • Funding Funding: Health Research Council of New Zealand, US National Institute of Mental Health (MH-4507, MH-49414, MH-56344), and UK Medical Research Council. The Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Research Unit is supported by the Health Research Council of New Zealand.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Accepted 25 April 2000
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