The Impact of Schools and School Programs upon Adolescent Sexual Behavior
Kirby, Douglas, The Journal of Sex Research
Schools are the one institution in our society regularly attended by most young people--nearly 95% of all youth aged 5 to 17 years are enrolled in elementary or secondary schools (National Center for Education Statistics, 1993). Furthermore, virtually all youth attend schools for years before they initiate sexual risk-taking behaviors, and a majority are enrolled at the time they initiate intercourse. These facts raise a variety of questions that this paper will attempt to partially answer: (a) Does simply being in school have an impact upon adolescent sexual risk-taking? Does greater attachment to school? (b) Does enrollment in schools with particular characteristics reduce the chances of sexual risk-taking? (c) Through what mechanisms do schools reduce sexual risk-taking? (d) Are there school-based programs that do not focus on any aspect of sexuality but that nevertheless reduce sexual risk-taking? (e) Are there school-based programs that do focus upon some aspect of sexuality and do reduce sexual risk-taking? (f) If so, is there broad public support for these programs and how broadly are they implemented?
IMPACT OF SCHOOL INVOLVEMENT
There are a variety of kinds of evidence suggesting that being in school does reduce sexual risk-taking behavior. In a multitude of developing countries around the world, as the percentage of girls completing elementary school has increased over time the teen birth rates have decreased. In the United States, youth who have dropped out of school are more likely to initiate sex earlier (Brewster, Cooksey, Guilkey, & Rindfuss, 1998), to fail to use contraception (Darroch, Landry, & Oslak, 1999), to become pregnant (Manlove, 1998), and to give birth (Manlove, Terry, Gitelson, Papillo, & Russell, 2000). Clearly, there are self-selection effects in these analyses, but the evidence also suggests that there is some causal impact. That is, youth who drop out of school are different in many ways from youth who do not drop out of school, even before they drop out, but dropping out appears to increase their sexual risk-taking behavior.
In addition, among youth who are in school, greater attachment is associated with less sexual risk-taking. In particular, investment in school, school involvement, attachment to school, or school performance have been found to be related to age of initiation of sex, frequency of sex, pregnancy, and childbearing (Billy, Brewster, & Grady, 1994; Brewster et al., 1998, Gibbs, 1986; Gibson & Kempf, 1990; Holden, Nelson, Velasquez, & Ritchie, 1993; Ireson, 1984; Lammers, Ireland, Resnick, & Blum, 2000; Manlove, 1998; Miller & Sneesby, 1988; Murry, 1992; Ohannessian & Crockett, 1993; Plotnick, 1992; Raine et al., 1999; Resnick et al., 1997; Robbins, Kaplan, & Martin, 1985). Finally, plans to attend college are also related to initiation of sex, use of condoms, use of contraception, pregnancy, and childbearing (Blum, Buehring, & Rinehart, 2000; Halpern, Joyner, Udry, & Suchindran, 2000; Manlove, 1998; Moore, Manlove, Glei, & Morrison, 1998; Pleck, Sonenstein, & Swain, 1988; Plotnick, 1992; Scher, Emans, & Grace, 1982).
CHARACTERISTICS OF SCHOOLS WITH HIGH PREGNANCY RATES
Just as youth in communities with high rates of poverty and social disorganization are more likely to become pregnant (Kirby et al., 2001), so youth in schools with high rates of poverty and social disorganization are also more likely to become pregnant. In particular, when female teens attend schools with higher percentages of students receiving a free lunch (Manlove, 1998), with higher school dropout rates (Singh, 1986), and with higher rates of school vandalism (Chandy, Harris, Blum, & Resnick, 1994), they are more likely to become pregnant. Reflecting the relative lack of opportunity and greater disorganization in some minority communities in this country, teens in schools with higher percentages of minority students are also more likely to have higher pregnancy rates than teens in schools with lower percentages of minority students (Manlove, 1998). …