Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

The Relationship of Childhood Sexual Abuse to Teenage Pregnancy

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

The Relationship of Childhood Sexual Abuse to Teenage Pregnancy

Article excerpt

This study examined whether childhood sexual abuse contributed to a greater risk for teenage pregnancy. Data from the sexual histories of 2,003 young women showed that sexual abuse alone was not related to the incidence of teenage pregnancy, but sexual precocity, alone and in combination with sexual abuse, was related to much higher incidences of teenage pregnancy. Logistic regression showed that social class, ethnicity, age at first coitus, not using birth control at first sex, and sexual abuse by a boyfriend were significant predictors of teenage pregnancy. Early coitus and not using contraception at first coitus were the strongest predictors of teenage pregnancy.

Key Words: childhood sexual abuse, contraception, ethnic differences, logistic regression, sexual precocity, teenage pregnancy.

The United States has the highest rate of teenage pregnancy among developed nations (Jones et al., 1985), with about 25% of all U.S. women having a pregnancy by age 18 (Alan Guttmacher Institute, 1994). In addition to high psychosocial and sometimes physical costs to the teenage mother and her child (Alan Guttmacher Institute, 1994), teenage childbearing and childrearing contribute approximately $25 billion annually to the costs of Aid to Families with Dependent Children, food stamps, and Medicaid (Wilcox, Chase-Lansdale, Scott-Jones, & Osofsky, 1995). Identifying factors that contribute to high rates of teenage pregnancy is an important step toward developing more effective policies and programs for reducing these rates. This study examined whether childhood sexual abuse is a factor associated with an increased risk for teenage pregnancies.

Recent studies have reported that sexual abuse is more common among pregnant teenagers than in the general population and, therefore, may be a major contributor to teenage pregnancy (Boyer & Fine, 1992; Butler & Burton,1990; Gershenson et al., 1989). The reported incidence of sexual abuse for women in studies of general populations has ranged from 7% to 50% (Anderson, Martin, Mullin, Romans, & Herbison, 1993; Baier, Rozenweig, & Whipple, 1991; Berenson, San Miguel, & Wilkinson, 1992; Erickson & Rapkin, 1991; Finkelhor, Hotaling, Lewis, & Smith, 1990; Koss & Dinero, 1989; Moore, Nord, & Peterson, 1989; Priest, 1992), whereas reports of the incidence of sexual abuse for ever-pregnant teenagers have ranged from 51% to 75% (Boyer & Fine, 1992; Butler & Burton, 1990; Gershenson et al., 1989). However, none of these studies compared sexual abuse rates for ever-pregnant teenagers with rates for their peers who did not have a teenage pregnancy. Thus, it is impossible to determine whether differences in reported incidence rates for these two groups are due to measurement or sampling differences across studies or whether sexual abuse contributes to a greater risk for teenage pregnancy.

Various mechanisms have been proposed to explain a linkage between childhood sexual abuse and teenage pregnancy. Butler and Burton (1990) outlined several potential linking mechanisms including: (a) some teenage pregnancies may be the direct result of sexual abuse, (b) childhood sexual abuse may socialize female victims to believe that their purpose in life is to fulfill the sexual needs of others, (c) the lowered self-esteem of sexual abuse victims may make them more vulnerable to males' sexual advances, and (d) victims of incest may plan pregnancies as a means of escaping from their victimization. In addition, Boyer and Fine (1992) have argued that the trauma of sexual victimization may harm normal developmental processes, including a sense of trust and decision-making abilities. Based on these mechanisms, we would expect victims of sexual abuse to have first voluntary coitus earlier, to be less likely to use contraception, to be more likely to participate in high-risk sexual behaviors (e.g., sex with strangers), and to have a higher number of sexual partners than their peers who were not sexually abused. …

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