Coital Debut: The Role of Religiosity and Sex Attitudes in the Add Health Survey
Rostosky, Sharon Scales, Regnerus, Mark D., Wright, Margaret Laurie Comer, The Journal of Sex Research
Research on adolescent development has shown that an earlier coital debut is associated with increased health risks such as sexually transmitted diseases and early pregnancy and child-bearing. As a developmental milestone, however, 60.5% of high school seniors report that they have had sex (Brener et al., 2002), and fewer than 20% remain virgins until marriage (Sex Information and Education Council of the Unites States [SIECUS], 1999). While age is perhaps the most consistent predictor of coital debut, systematic variations in timing have been documented across gender, race, and social class. For instance, research indicates that 65.9% of African American males have had sex by the 9th grade as opposed to 46.7% and 35.4% of Hispanic and White adolescent males, respectively (Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System [YRBSS, 2002]). While adolescent boys engage in more sexual activity than girls (DeGaston, Weed, & Jensen, 1996), gender differences are more pronounced for African American than for Caucasian adolescents until late adolescence, when girls seemingly "catch up" to boys (Bearman & Bruckner, 2001).
One important context that influences the timing of this transition is a youth's religious context. In a review of over 250 studies conducted between 1980 and 1999, Kirby (1999) identified 13 clusters of antecedents of sexual risk-taking (e.g., initiation of sex, number of partners, frequency, contraceptive use) that ranged from community-level to individual-level factors. One of the clusters--attachment to religious institutions--described the protective nature of religiosity. Whether measured at the community level, family level, or individual level, religiosity was associated with delaying the initiation of sexual intercourse and with reporting fewer sex partners.
In spite of the importance of religious context to adolescent sexual decision making, a theoretically and methodologically rigorous empirical literature has been seemingly piecemeal and slow to develop (see Wilcox et al., 2001, for a critical review of published research on adolescent religiosity and sexual behavior). However, current interest in faith-based initiatives and the role of faith-based organizations in addressing social problems related to adolescent sexual behavior (e.g., teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease) suggests a need for serious, immediate, and focused empirical attention to the role of religiosity in the sexual decision making of adolescents. Therefore, the purpose of this project was to test a model based on social control theory (DeLamater, 1981, 1989) and sexual socialization theory (Reiss, 1989) that hypothesizes both direct and indirect effects of religiosity on adolescent sexual decision making. Specifically, we tested a hypothesis that individual-level religiosity influences adolescent coital debut via its impact on inhibitory sexual attitudes.
In the following section, we first summarize the few longitudinal studies that have examined the role of religiosity in delaying coital debut. Then, we locate our hypothesized model within the more general empirical literature on the correlates of adolescent coital debut. Finally, we discuss social control theory and sexual socialization theory as applied to sexual decision making. In this way, we lay the theoretical groundwork for testing the hypothesis that negative sex attitudes may account for some (if not all) of previously observed associations between religiosity and adolescent coital debut.
OVERVIEW OF LITERATURE
To date, a meager number of longitudinal studies indicate that religiosity, variously defined as religious affiliation, church attendance, self-reports of the importance of religion, or a composite of these, delays coital debut (see Rostosky et al., in press, for a more extensive review of these). When examined by gender, race, and social class, however, findings indicate that the association between religiosity and coital debut is far less straightforward. …