Early Sexual Experiences among Pregnant and Parenting Adolescents

Article excerpt

One hundred sixty-six pregnant or parenting adolescent females completed a survey regarding early sexual experiences (wanted and unwanted), family dysfunction and violence, and health-risky behaviors occurring prior to age 18. Fifty-three percent had at least one unwanted sexual experience. Younger age at first unwanted sexual experience was associated with younger age at first wanted sexual experience. Adolescent females with an unwanted sexual experience, as compared to those without, were more likely to be victims of physical violence, to have run away, to be substance abusers, and to have family members with drug or alcohol problems. Four factors explained 39% of the variance in age at first pregnancy: presence of a family member with a drinking problem, age first got hit with a belt or other object by a family member, age first got drunk, and age at first wanted sexual experience. It was concluded that the prevention of teenage pregnancy entails a multifaceted approach that addresses family life, early sexual experiences, and health-risky behaviors.

It is estimated that between 15% and 40% of all females under age 18 in the United States have been sexually abused or assaulted (Finkelhor, 1979; Russell, 1983; Kellogg & Hoffman, 1995), and that as many as 68% of teenage mothers have been sexually abused (Boyer & Fine, 1989). There are many consequences of teenage pregnancy and sexual abuse. Teenage mothers are at increased risk for premature childbirth and pregnancy complications, and their infants for physical disability and morbidity ("Advance Report," 1987; Lee & Corpuz, 1988). Teenage mothers are also more likely to abuse their children than are older mothers (Olds, Henderson, Tatelbaum, & Chamberlin, 1988), and if the teenagers have been abused themselves, they are significantly more likely to abuse their children than are teenage mothers who have no history of abuse (Boyer & Fine, 1992). Sexually abused teenage mothers, as compared to those who have not been abused, generally have fewer support systems, experience more depression, and are more likely to abuse substances during pregnancy (Stevens-Simon & McAnarney, 1994; Stevens-Simon & Reichert, 1992; Donaldson, Whalen, & Anastas, 1989). Sexual abuse commonly results in lack of trust (Kinard, 1979; O'Brien, 1987), low self-esteem (Oates, Forest, & Peacock, 1985), and distorted ideas regarding sexuality (Koverola, 1992; Yates, 1982), significantly impacting the ability to establish secure and lasting intimate relationships.

Sexual abuse usually precedes pregnancy when they co-occur (Berenson, San Miguel, & Wilkinson, 1992a). Both tend to be associated with similar social and environmental factors (Stevens-Simon & Reichert, 1992), including family dysfunction, physical abuse, and substance use. Sexually abused adolescents are more likely to be victims of violence, to run away, and to be substance abusers than are adolescents who have not been abused (Kellogg & Burge, 1996). These correspond to the general background and risky behaviors of teenage mothers (Phipps-Yonas, 1980).

Family life appears to be related to adolescents' susceptibility to intra- and extrafamilial abuse and high-risk behaviors, including sexual activity and pregnancy. Butler and Burton (1990) found similarities between the family dynamics of sexually abused and pregnant adolescents, namely a patriarchal family structure, devaluation of the mother, and a daughter who takes on the maternal role. They also found that sexually abused females were more likely to become pregnant intentionally.

Some researchers (Boyer & Fine, 1992; Butler & Burton, 1990) have found pregnancy during adolescence to be a direct result of sexual abuse. Others (Berenson, San Miguel, & Wilkinson, 1992b) believe that adolescent pregnancy may provide a means of emancipation, especially from sexual and/or physical maltreatment by family members. …