Casual Sex in Adolescence: Outcomes and Implications for Practice

By Liace, Lisa K.; Nunez, Jessica B. et al. | National Association of School Psychologists. Communique, March/April 2011 | Go to article overview
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Casual Sex in Adolescence: Outcomes and Implications for Practice

Liace, Lisa K., Nunez, Jessica B., Luckner, Amy E., National Association of School Psychologists. Communique


Teenage sexual activity has arguably received more attention in the national media as of late than ever before. One is inundated with information concerning everything from alarming rises in the incidence and prevalence rates of sexually transmitted infections in adolescents and young adults to the latest round of suspensions (or even arrests) resulting from students sending each other sexually explicit text messages. Another alarming trend is the downward expansion of casual sexual activity from college and university campuses to middle and high school buildings. Popular opinion tends to categorize participation in casual sexual behavior during adolescence as negative, and almost certain to cause harmful physical and psychological effects ranging from unplanned pregnancy to increased depressive symptoms (e.g., Chansanchai, 2007; Stepp, 2007).

In light of these popular perceptions, the objectives of this article are to review the research literature concerning the prevalence of casual sexual behavior in adolescence and resulting developmental outcomes, as well as to examine implications for school psychology practice. Specifically, this article aims to explore two central questions: (a) what are the associations between engaging in casual sexual interactions and adolescents' development, and (b) what actions can school psychologists and other education professionals take in order to prevent and/or reduce the potential risks associatedwith such behavior? Suggestions for future research will also be provided


To begin, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance conducted in 2005, 46.8% of all high school students report that they have engaged in sexual intercourse. Research on adolescents' sexual behavior suggests that most teenagers (approximately three fourths) have their first sexual experience within a dating relationship; however, more than three fifths of sexually active adolescents eventually have sexual encounters outside of a traditional dating context with partners ranging from strangers to friends to former boyfriends or girlfriends (Manning, Giordano, & Longmore, 2006) . Utilizing data from the Toledo Adolescent Relationships Study, a large scale research project that gathered survey and narrative data from 1,316 adolescents in the 7th, 9th andiithgrades,Manningandcolleaguesdiscoveredthat about one third of participants reported engaging in sexual intercourse, and that 61% of these teens indicated that they had had sex outside of a dating relationship.

In addition, data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health indicate that the majority of sexually active teens within the sample (mean age = 16 years) have had some sexual experience outside of a romantic relationship (Manning, Longmore, & Giordano, 2005). The study also revealed that teenagers' sexual experiences tend to change over time, as 60% of sexually active participants reported having sex in both romantic and nonromantic relationship contexts.

Studies of young adults reveal similar findings. For instance, in an examination of the sexual behavior of 1,311 sexually active young adults (mean age = 20.5 years), Eisenberg, Ackard, Resnick, and Neumark-Sztainer (2009) found that one fifth of participants reported that their most recent sexual partner was a casual partner (i.e., a casual acquaintance or close but nonexclusive partner), as compared to a more committed partner (defined as an exclusive partner, fiancé, spouse, or spousal equivalent).

It is important to note, however, that ethnic and gender differences in casual sexual behavior have been observed. Specifically, Eisenberg and colleagues (2009) found that casual partnerships were more common among males than females (29% vs. 14% of participants), while studies conducted by Manning and colleagues (2005) and Ahrold and Meston (2010) revealed that African American participants were more likely to report having nonromantic sex than were European American participants.

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Casual Sex in Adolescence: Outcomes and Implications for Practice


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