Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality

Influence of Teens' Perceptions of Parental Disapproval and Peer Behaviour on Their Initiation of Sexual Intercourse

Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality

Influence of Teens' Perceptions of Parental Disapproval and Peer Behaviour on Their Initiation of Sexual Intercourse

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT: This study of 2,353 grade 10 and 12 students asked whether their perceptions of parental approval/disapproval of their having sexual intercourse would predict whether or not they had ever had intercourse. Weil over half of these students anticipated parental disapproval and 44% of the total sample had ever had intercourse. Logistic regression analyses showed no predictive effect of perceived parental disapproval on intercourse experience whereas students' perceptions of the sexual intercourse experience of same sex and other sex friends was predictive for both sexes. Females were significantly more likely than males to anticipate fathers' disapproval but the sexes did not differ with respect to mothers' disapproval. Students most often cited personal experience, friends and parents as main or preferred sources of information about healthy dating and relationships but generally favoured schools for information on pregnancy and STI prevention. The findings may suggest ways to support the potentially mutually reinforcing roles of schools, peers and parents in adolescent sexual health.

Key words: Teens Sexual intercourse Parental disapproval Peer influence Gender differences


Traditionally, parents have been viewed as having a primary influence on adolescents' sexual behaviours (Miller et al., 1998; Newcomer & Udry, 1984). In a summary of two decades of research about family influences on the risk of adolescents becoming pregnant or causing a pregnancy, Miller, Benson and Galbraith (2001) suggest that researchers consistently find that parent/child closeness or connectedness, parental supervision or regulation of children's activities, and parents' values against teen intercourse decrease the risk of adolescent pregnancy. While several biological factors (timing of pubertal development, hormone levels, and genes) are also related to adolescent pregnancy risk, these factors are impossible or difficult to change, so research focusing on family influence as a key proximal determinant is a useful focus for potential interventions. In this study, we investigated the influence of various parental communication variables (perception of parental disapproval, quality and content of sexual communication) as well as perception of peer sexual activity on Grade 10 and 12 students' sexual behaviour.


Perception of parental approval/disapproval of teen sexual activity is considered a parental communication variable in Miller et al.'s (2001) mediated conceptual model of family relationships and adolescent pregnancy risk. They conclude that parental attitudes and values disapproving of adolescent sexual intercourse are related to lower adolescent pregnancy risk. While some studies have found a relationship between perceived parental disapproval and decreased sexual health risk (Resnick, Bearman, Blum, Bauman, Harris et al., 1997; Romer, Stanton, Galbraith, Feigelman Black, & Li, 1999), others have found that perception of parental (particularly mother) disapproval of teen sex is inversely related to onset of intercourse (Jaccard, Dittus, & Gordon, 1998; Somers & Paulson, 2000). The present study continues this line of inquiry by asking Grade 10 and 12 students about the extent to which they think their mothers and fathers would approve or disapprove of their having sexual intercourse.

In addition to perception of parental disapproval, quality of communication with parents and closeness of the relationship with parents appear to be among the other important aspects of parent-child communication that are related to lower levels of adolescent pregnancy. Many researchers conclude that parent/teen closeness combined with open, positive, and frequent parent/child communication about sex are associated with adolescents' abstinence, postponing sexual debut, having fewer sexual partners, and more consistent contraceptive use (Barnett, Papini, & Gbur, 1991; Gupta, Weiss, & Mane, 1996; Karofsky, Zeng, & Kosovok, 2000; Miller et al. …

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