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Sexuality in Adolescence

Correlates And Outcomes

A wide range of factors influence and are affected by the timing and frequency of adolescent sexual activity (Kirby 2001). Neighborhood characteristics, socioeconomic status, parent's marital status, sibling characteristics, sexual abuse, and biological factors all have been shown to be related to teenage sexual behavior (Miller, Benson, and Galbraith 2001). Living in neighborhoods with low socioeconomic status (Ramirez-Valles, Zimmerman, and Newcomb 1998), high disorder or hazards (Upchurch et al. 1999), or in predominantly African-American neighborhoods (Sucoff and Upchurch 1998), is associated with higher risk sexual behavior whereas high neighborhood monitoring and high neighborhood religious practice are associated with lower sexual risk behavior.

High socioeconomic status of parents most often has been found to be associated with lower risk of having had intercourse and later sexual debut for adolescents (Taris and Semin 1997; Ramirez-Valles, Zimmerman, and Newcomb 1998; and Upchurch et al. 1999). Kathleen E. Miller and her colleagues (1998) found no relationship between family income and teenage sexual behavior and other investigators reported mixed results; parents socioeconomic status was related to lower risk for teenage pregnancy among Latinos and higher risk for African Americans.

Brent C. Miller and colleagues (2001) also reported that in most studies, living in other than a two-parent home (e.g., single parent, step, divorced, or other nontraditional family setting) is associated with increased risk of adolescent sexual intercourse. Miller and Benson (1999) reported that this trend was less evident among African-American and Latino samples. Also, having sexually active, pregnant, or parenting older siblings was found to be related to younger sibling's more risky sexual behavior (East 1996; Whitbeck et al. 1999), although this effect may be mediated by a positive sibling relationship.

Several biological factors also predict adolescent sexual behavior, including young age of menarche, high androgen levels in males and females, early pubertal development, and higher free testosterone levels (Miller, Benson, and Galbraith 2001). Miller and colleagues (2001) synthesized research on family factors influencing teenage pregnancy. Across the various studies, parent/child closeness was remarkably consistent in its inverse relationship to adolescent sexual behavior. Measures of parent/child closeness were positively related to at least one of the following outcomes: increased probability of abstinence, later sexual debut, fewer sexual partners, or increased use of contraceptives ( Jaccard, Dittus, and Gordon 1998; Miller et al. 1998; Ramirez-Valles, Zimmerman, and Newcomb 1998; Rodgers 1999; Upchurch et al. 1999; and Whitbeck et al. 1999).

Parental control and monitoring were generally found to be related to decreased probability of sexual intercourse among teenagers (Miller, Benson, and Galbraith 2001). Parental rules, monitoring and presence were related to decreased and more responsible sexual activity (Perkins et al. 1998; Miller, Benson, and Galbraith 2001; Rodgers 1999; and Whitbeck et al. 1999). Les Whitbeck and colleagues (1999) found a mixed outcome by age, with parental monitoring of younger adolescents leading to decreased sexual activity and among older adolescents leading to increased sexual activity. In another study (Rodgers 1999), parental monitoring was associated with lower risk sexual behavior, but parent's psychological control was related to higher risk sexual behavior. Dawn Upchurch and colleagues (1999) also found that intrusive control by parents was linked to increased sexual behavior among teenagers.

The relationship between parent/child communication and adolescent sexual activity is less well understood. Although several studies report that frequent and positive parent/child communication about sex is related to less risky adolescent sexual behavior (East 1996; Miller, Benson, and Galbraith 2001), others report no relationship (Chewning and Koningsveld 1998; Rodgers 1999), and a few even reported a positive association between parent/child communication and riskier sexual behavior in teenagers (Miller, Benson, and Galbraith 2001). These counterintuitive findings could be due to methodological problems of the research.

Parent's values relating to teenage sexual activity are clearly associated with teenager's reported sexual behavior. Recent research shows that teenagers whose parents disapprove of teenage sex are less likely to have intercourse ( Jaccard, Dittus, and Gordon 1998; and Miller, Benson, and Galbraith 2001). Conversely, mothers' permissive attitudes were found to be related to increased adolescent sexual intercourse (Taris and Semin 1997). Parents' attitudes alone are not responsible for this effect, because some studies suggest that adolescents' perception of their parents' attitudes is more important than the parent's actual attitude.

Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaFamily Health IssuesSexuality in Adolescence - Sexual Intercourse Patterns In The United States, Racial, National, And Ethnic Diversity, Relationships And Sexual Activity