Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Factors Associated with Sexual Risk-Taking Behaviors among Adolescents

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Factors Associated with Sexual Risk-Taking Behaviors among Adolescents

Article excerpt

During the past two decades, a considerable amount of research has focused on factors related to decisions to have sexual intercourse among adolescents. A growing awareness of the problematic consequences of early childbearing for the teenagers and their children contributed to researchers' interest in this area. Given recent trends, this continues to be an important area of research. The proportion of United States females aged from 15 to 19 who ever had sexual intercourse rose from 28.6% in 1970 to 51.5% in 1988 (Centers for Disease Control, 1991), and for the past 4 years, the birth rate has increased for 15- to 19-year-old females (Moore, 1993). By age 20, over 80% of males and over 70% of females have had intercourse at least once (Hayes, 1987).

Teenage pregnancy and childbearing, however, are not the only problems associated with early sexual activity. Of the 12 million cases of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) that are estimated to occur annually, adolescents account for one-quarter of those infected (Moore, 1992), and STDs have been increasing among adolescents since the 1970s (Centers for Disease Control, 1992c). As Brooks-Gunn and Furstenberg (1989) noted, "Excluding homosexual men and prostitutes, female teenagers have the highest rates of gonorrhea, cytomegalovirus, chlamydia cervicitis, and pelvic inflammatory diseases of any age group" (p. 254). According to the Centers for Disease Control (1992b), the cumulative number of acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) cases among adolescents between 13 and 19 years old increased from 127 in January 1987 to 789 in December 1991. Moreover, given that the median incubation period between infection and onset of AIDS is almost 10 years, many of those with AIDS who are in their twenties were infected during adolescence (Centers for Disease Control, 1992b). Unfortunately, research that investigates the problem of sexually transmitted diseases among teenagers is very limited (Brooks-Gunn & Furstenberg, 1989).

The present study attempts to shed light on these important matters by examining a large sample of teens residing in the midwestern United States. One objective of this study is to compare adolescents who we will define as sexual risk takers (teens who have had multiple partners and do not use contraception) with teens in two lower risk groups: (a) sexually active but lower risk adolescents (those who have only one partner and use contraception all the time), and (b) abstainers (those who are not sexually experienced). Teenagers who have multiple partners and do not use contraception are at risk for pregnancy, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), and other STDs. Thus, they are an important group to try to understand and, currently, one that we know little about. In particular, we are interested in how sexual risk takers differ from other sexually active teens who behave more responsibly.

The fact that many adolescents have had several sexual partners has been established by recent, national surveys conducted by the Centers for Disease Control (1992b). Overall, 19% of ninth, 10th, 11th, and 12th graders who participated in the 1990 Youth Risk Behavior Survey had four or more sex partners during their lifetime. Among males, 20.6% of 10th graders and 38.5% of 12th graders had four or more partners. Fewer females had multiple partners; 9.3% and 17.0% of 10th and 12th graders, respectively, had four or more partners.

Although it is well documented that a growing number of adolescents have had multiple sexual partners, there are few studies that have examined factors associated with having multiple partners among adolescents. One exception is the work of Sorensen (1973), who compared adolescents who practiced serial monogamy with adolescents who were labeled sexual adventurers (i.e., those who had frequent changes in sexual partners). In his national sample of adolescents between 13 and 19 years old, 41% of the sexually experienced males and 13% of the sexually experienced females were classified as sexual adventurers. …

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