Lifestyle and Risk of Premature Sexual Activity in a High School Population of Seventh-Day Adventists: Valuegenesis 1989

Article excerpt

In the past twenty years, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), including human immunodeficiency virus infection and acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS), as well as the physical, psychological, and economic difficulties associated with unwanted pregnancy, have increased steadily among American adolescents. It has been demonstrated that early initiation of sexual activity is associated with an increased risk for STDs (Centers for Disease Control, 1992b). The morbidity from teenage STDs over time poses serious health risks for youth who are sexually active. Further, should unwanted pregnancy occur, babies of teen parents are at higher risk both physically and psychologically than are infants born to older women (McAnarney & Hendee, 1989).

Recently, the risk of HIV exposure has added urgency to concerns about adolescent sexual activity. Several sources have noted that adolescents are among the high risk groups for HIV/AIDS in the United States (CDC, 1989; Stall, McKusick, Wiley, Coates, & Ostrow, 1986). The Centers for Disease Control (1992a) reported that the 15- 29-year age group has the third highest incidence of new cases of HIV infection. Because the average time between exposure to HIV and diagnosis of AIDS is approximately ten years, AIDS identified in individuals ages 20-29 years ordinarily represents exposure during the teen years.

In January 1992, the CDC (1992b) estimated the percentage of sexually active high school students in the United States to be 54.2%. The percentage increased with grade level, ranging from 39.6% for ninth graders to 71.9% for twelfth graders and was significantly higher in males than in females (48% versus 60.8%, respectively).

By contrast, a 1989 study of Seventh-Day Adventist youth in private Adventist secondary schools (the "Valuegenesis Study") found that, overall, only 21.6% of males and females in grades nine through 12 reported being sexually active (Benson & Donahue, 1990). The National Health Objectives for the year 2000 include reduction of the proportion of adolescents who are sexually active to [less than or equal to] 15% for 15-year-olds and [less than or equal to] 40% for 17-year-olds (CDC, 1992b). In light of this goal, the lower than average proportion of sexually active adolescents identified by the Valuegenesis data is of particular interest.

A subset of the Valuegenesis study was analyzed in order to identify lifestyle factors associated with adolescent sexual intercourse and thus also with an increased risk of both teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases including HIV/AIDS. The objective was to identify possible "transition-marking behaviors" (behaviors that represent significant points in the transition from adolescence to adulthood) associated with early sexual activity (Jessor & Jessor, 1975).

METHOD

The study is based on a subset of the Valuegenesis study data. In that study, a 20% random sample of Adventist elementary schools (grades six through eight), all Adventist high schools in North America, and teachers, parents, and pastors were invited to participate by completing a questionnaire (Search Institute, 1989). The questionnaire probed specific behaviors, beliefs, feelings, and attitudes as part of an evaluation of the strength of faith and Adventist belief evidenced by youth enrolled in Seventh-day Adventist private schools in North America. North American Division leaders of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, in cooperation with Searle Institute (Minneapolis, Minnesota), designed the questionnaire, selecting nearly 500 from a total of approximately 1,500 questions previously used by Search Institute in other, similar studies of other denominations.

Search Institute directed the data collection, designating a test administrator in each participating school who was responsible for planning and organization prior to administration of the questionnaire and for the data collection. …