Nicole M. Fava

Project Title: Developing a trauma-informed measure of youth sexual health

Racial/ethnic minority youth with histories of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are at disparate risk for negative sexual outcomes, such as sexually transmitted infections and HIV. However, the intersection of race/ethnicity and ACEs on sexual health has not been well-studied. Addressing this gap is imperative as racial/ethnic minority youth are over-represented in adverse health outcomes research, but under-represented in examinations of healthy sexuality, leading to potentially inaccurate and over-simplified associations. The objective of the proposed research is to develop a multidimensional trauma-informed measure of sexual health to help better understand sexual health without retraumatizing youth with histories of adversity. Guided by trauma-informed principles of trustworthiness and transparency, collaboration and mutuality, empowerment, voice, and choice, and cultural issues, the proposed research  departs from a risk-focused framework of sexuality, embraces a comprehensive definition of sexual health, employs trauma-informed principles across all levels of the research process, and focuses on non-Latinx Black and Latinx girls and boys who have experienced childhood adversity. Currently, no trauma-informed measure of sexual health exists. Researchers and clinicians will benefit from a valid and high-utility measure allowing them to more fully understand a critical aspect of development and highlight dimensions of sexual health to target with supportive interventions for individuals from diverse backgrounds. Ultimately, this will have a positive impact on the overall health and well-being of youth by serving as the first step towards a universal, multi-dimensional, trauma-informed measure of sexual health built from the shared experiences and perspectives of racial/ethnic minority youth with ACE histories.

Research Interests

Healthy adolescent and young adult development, Sexual health and well-being, Trauma, childhood maltreatment, adverse childhood experiences

Assistant Professor
Robert Stempel College of Public Health & Social Work
Social Work

Dr. Nicole Fava’s research agenda prioritizes trauma-informed care and sexual health promotion for vulnerable youth with histories of ACEs. She was among the first to call for trauma-informed sexuality education to support the sexual health of all youth (2013) and to examine positive sexual outcomes and sexual health among youth with maltreatment histories (2017; 2018). Fava has examined sexual agency of girls in the child welfare system (2014), impact of social context on developing sexuality (2014; 2018), and safe sexual behaviors as normative and growth-promoting experiences (2012). Recent work includes creating a multidimensional index of sexual health from items in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health to examine sexual health trajectories among individuals with maltreatment histories (2018) and a multidimensional measure of child well-being from the Fragile Families Dataset (2017), and examining sexual well-being among Latina farmworkers with histories of sexual trauma (2020).

Dr. Fava is especially interested in conducting participant-centered, community-based research examining individual, peer/romantic partner, family, and community level factors impacting healthy development to inform effective and holistic interventions for youth and families. Fava has a strong interdisciplinary background of training in research approaches, methods, and design, as well as training in trauma-specific interventions and holistic evidence-based intervention models such as trauma-informed yoga and mindfulness-based stress reduction.

Dr. Fava joined FIU Stempel College and the Center for Children and Families in 2015. She earned her PhD and MSW from the School of Social Work, University at Buffalo, New York.

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