Two "transition-marking" (Jessor & Jessor, 1975) behaviors, that is, behaviors that represent milestones in the transition from adolescence to adulthood, have been given considerable attention in the research literature. The onset of sexual intercourse and the onset of regular alcohol consumption among adolescents, both transition markers of entry into adulthood, have been the subject of numerous studies from widely disparate theoretical views (Sorensen, 1973; Zelnik & Kantner, 1980; Finkel & Finkel, 1975; Rachal, Maisto, Guess, & Hubbard, 1982; Christiansen, Goldman, & Inn, 1982).
Until very recently the transition from virgin to nonvirgin or from nondrinker to drinker was examined in separate literatures. A notable early exception is the work of Jessor and Jessor (1977). More recently several articles have examined whether the onset of one transition behavior predicts the onset of others (Donovan, Jessor, & Costa, 1988; Hundleby, 1987; Mott & Haurin, 1988; Rosenbaum & Kandel, 1990; Elliott & Morse, 1989; Zabin, Hardy, Smith, & Hirsch, 1986). After controlling for several confounding variables, Rosenbaum and Kandel (1990) concluded that use of cigarettes, alcohol, marijuana, and other illicit drugs increases the likelihood of the onset of intercourse before age 16, and that this finding holds, in varying degrees, across ethnic groups.
Concerned that young adolescents were combining transition-marking behaviors, Jessor and Jessor (1975) suggested that even if those behaviors reflected societal norms, they should nonetheless be considered deviant or "problem behaviors" and be given special attention. Mott and Haurin (1988) take a more moderate approach. Because of their finding that few adolescents engage in all three behaviors (i.e., drinking, drugs, and intercourse), they suggest that "to dwell on 'syndromes' of deviance that probably affect only modest proportions of young people may be counterproductive from the perspective of developing appropriate youth programs or policies".
Still, because transition-marking behaviors are related to drinking while driving and to teen pregnancies (Hayes, 1987), there is no doubt that helping professionals, educators, and policymakers are concerned about these behaviors. Even Mott and Haurin (1988) acknowledge that "adolescent substance use and its possible linkage with other adolescent behaviors (such as sexual intercourse) may be the single most important issue on any social policy agenda involving contemporary youth".
The reason that alcohol consumption and sexual intercourse among adolescents disturb many professionals is not necessarily the early onset of these behaviors. Nor are alcohol use and adolescent sexuality of concern only because many young people combine these behaviors. Another reason the onset of these two transition-marking behaviors might disturb policymakers and service providers is that once they begin, they require that certain companion behaviors, specifically those associated with responsibility, follow. That is, engaging in one adult behavior requires that teenagers engage in others if the original behavior is to be defined as responsible by adults.
A teenager's first credit card purchase, for example, may require that teenager to make a first payment on a purchase. A first automobile requires that an adolescent keep the car filled with gas. Failure to follow one transition-marking behavior with the appropriate companion behaviors can produce difficulties which adults may have to remedy. Losing credit card privileges or letting a car run out of gas, however, does not alter the course of a young person's life. But when the onset of sexual intercourse or regular alcohol consumption is not followed by the correct companion behaviors, the adolescent's life may indeed be permanently altered. Adolescents who fail to use birth control with the onset of intercourse and who fail to drink in moderation are risking permanent damage to their lives. …