Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality

Biobehavioural and Cognitive Determinants of Adolescent Girls' Involvement in Sexual Risk Behaviours: A Test of Three Theoretical Models

Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality

Biobehavioural and Cognitive Determinants of Adolescent Girls' Involvement in Sexual Risk Behaviours: A Test of Three Theoretical Models

Article excerpt

The observed increase in teenage pregnancy rates and sexually transmitted infection (STI) in adolescents in Quebec indicates a need to examine causes and prevention of sexual risk behaviours in this age group. This study uses two theoretical frameworks (the Theory of Reasoned Action and Problem Behavior Theory) combined with the basic framework of the Theory of Reproductive Development to identify variables predicting two specific behaviours related to teen pregnancy and reproductive health: (1) age at first intercourse, and (2) consistency of condom use. Two cohorts of girls (N = 407, aged 12 to 17 years) were included in three specific periods of data collection from 1995 to 1997. Sequential Logistic Regression Analyses were performed to test the two theoretical frameworks separately for each outcome. The results show that age at first sexual intercourse and the consistency of condom use are predicted by different sets of variables, suggesting that these behaviours may have different meanings and/or importance for adolescents. The Theory of Reasoned Action combined model appears to be a better predictor of the two target behaviours.

Key words: Girls Puberty Sexual risk behaviour Theory of Reasoned Action Problem Behavior Theory


Teens in Quebec and Canada generally remain a high-risk group for sexually transmitted infection (STI) and unintended pregnancy. With respect to sexual health outcomes, while the overall teen pregnancy rate for Canada declined from 48.8 per 1,000 females aged 15 to 19 in 1994 to 38.2 in 2000, the rate in Quebec increased from 33.1 in 1994 to 39.7 in 2000 (Wadhera & Millar, 1998; Statistics Canada, 2003). Data on reportable STI (e.g., chlamydia) indicate that STI rates among teens are increasing in Canada (Health Canada, 2004) and Quebec (Centre Quebecois de Coordination sur le SIDA, 2002).

The data on teen pregnancy rates and STI infection among Quebec and Canadian teens underscores the need to conduct adolescent sexual risk behaviour research that can structure and inform sexual risk reduction interventions in these settings. The primary objective of the research presented here was to use data from The Logitudinal Study of Kindergarten Children in Quebec--ELEMQ to predict two aspects of adolescent sexual risk behaviour using three different theoretical frameworks. Based on previous research we developed hypotheses concerning the explanatory power of the Theory of Reproductive Development (Belsky, Steinberg, & Draper, 1991), the Theory of Reasoned Action (Fishbein & Middlestadt, 1989), and Problem Behavior Theory (Jessor, Donovan & Costa, 1991) in predicting age at first intercourse and consistency of condom use.


The Theory of Reproductive Development (Belsky et al., 1991) postulates that involvement in sexual activity is a behaviour emerging from development. More precisely, it suggests that the family environmental context (e.g., socioeconomic status), parent-child relationships, physical development, and child psychosocial adjustment will predict reproductive behaviours. The main hypothesis is that stressful family living conditions will accelerate children's puberty onset and lower their age at first intercourse.

The Theory of Reasoned Action (Fishbein & Middlestadt, 1989) is based on the assumption that human beings are reasonable creatures who, in deciding what action to take, systematically process and use the information available. Thus, in this theory, whether a behaviour is performed depends mainly on the individual's intention, which is a function of his or her attitudes (positive or negative feelings) toward the behaviour and his or her subjective norms (whether significant others agree on behaviour performance).

According to the Problem Behavior Theory (Jessor et al., 1991), behaviour performance results from the sum of two opposing sets of risk and protective factors, which determine a proneness toward either deviant or normative conduct. …

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