Sibling Influence, Gender Roles, and the Sexual Socialization of Urban Early Adolescent Girls
Kornreich, Jennifer L., Hearn, Kimberly D., Rodriguez, Giovanna, O'Sullivan, Lucia F., The Journal of Sex Research
Despite years of interest in parental and peer influences on adolescent sexual behavior (Billy & Udry, 1985; Newcomer & Udry, 1984), there has been surprisingly little research on the influence of siblings on adolescent sexual outcomes. Most research in the area has addressed older sibling influences on adolescents' age of first intercourse (Watts & Nagy, 2000; Widmer, 1997), consistency in contraceptive use (D'Amico & Fromme, 1997), and pregnancy and childbearing rates (East & Jacobson, 2000). This literature has established that younger siblings tend to report an earlier onset of sexual intercourse compared with their older siblings (Moore & Chase-Lansdale, 2001; Rodgers, Rowe, & Harris, 1992). Further, younger siblings with pregnant or parenting older sisters in the home tend to report higher levels of sexual experience and more frequent intercourse compared with those without pregnant or parenting sisters in the home (East, Felice, & Morgan, 1993); they are also more likely to parent a child during adolescence themselves (East, 1996a, 1996b; East & Shi, 1997; Hogan & Kitagawa, 1985; Pick & Palos, 1995).
SIBLING CONTEXT AND ADOLESCENT SEXUAL SOCIALIZATION
Although most of the research on sibling context and sexual socialization has addressed the influence of older sisters, there is growing support for the strong influence of older brothers on their younger siblings' sexual behavior or outcomes. In a study of 183 pairs of cohabiting adolescent siblings (Widmer, 1997), younger sisters' beliefs about the best age to become sexually active were related to their older brothers' sexual beliefs, but not to their older sisters' sexual beliefs. Moreover, the sexual behavior of older brothers had a much greater effect on younger siblings' behavior than did the sexual behavior of older sisters. For example, older brothers' intercourse experience and contraceptive use at first intercourse were related to younger siblings' subsequent intercourse and contraceptive behavior. A review of this research suggests that older male and female siblings may differentially influence the sexual socialization of their younger siblings. Such information is essential for informing etiological models of sexual socialization and may have important implications for prevention efforts aimed at addressing sibling effects on adolescents' sexual outcomes.
It is less clear whether older brothers and sisters influence other aspects of their younger siblings' sexual socialization, in particular the development of gender roles for sexual interactions. Girls with older brothers are more gender-typed in their social roles and more stereotypically feminine than their peers with older sisters (Leventhal, 1970; Updegraff, McHale, & Crouter, 2000). This line of evidence can be paired with evidence showing that girls' sexual socialization in the home may be particularly influenced by family factors (e.g., Tucker, Barber, & Eccles, 1997). For example, familial context and familial dynamics, such as the number of parents in the home, parent-child communication, and parental attitudes, were found to be more strongly related to adolescent girls' sexual cognitions (e.g., sexual attitudes and beliefs) than to those of adolescent boys (Werner-Wilson, 1998).
We hypothesized that in the process of sibling socialization, whereby younger siblings learn values, knowledge, roles, and skills from older siblings (Cicirelli, 1994), older brothers may be more likely than older sisters to reinforce girls' traditional gender roles in sexual interactions. Because power is a significant source of influence in close relationships, and boys' strategies tend to dominate in mixed-sex encounters during childhood and adolescence (Kelley et al., 1983; Maccoby, 1998), the power differential between older brothers and younger sisters may be a strong determinant in the development of gender roles relative to other forms of influence. …