Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Seasonality of Sexual Debut

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Seasonality of Sexual Debut

Article excerpt

This study brings together insights from two bodies of scholarship that have heretofore existed as parallel research literatures, namely, research on the social antecedents of sexual debut and scholarship on the seasonality of coital activity. The authors use the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health to discover two seasonal peaks in the reported onset of first intercourse, one in the early summertime months for adolescents in general (the summer effect) and another during December for romantic ally involved adolescents (the holiday season effect). The authors explore the social contours of these patterns by analyzing the effects of gender, race, and partner relationship context (romantic vs. nonromantic) on each peak. Summertime debuts typically occur between nonromantic partners, and wintertime debuts typically occur between romantic partners.

Key Words: adolescent sexual behavior, first intercourse, gender, romantic relationships, seasonality, sexual debut.

The past several decades have given rise to a large body of scholarship on the sexual attitudes and practices of American adolescents (Fergusson & Lynskey, 1996; Miller & Heaton, 1991; Miller, Levin, Whittaker, & Xu, 1998; Nathanson & Kim, 1989; Resnick et al. 1997; for review, see Kahn, Kalsbeek, & Hofferth, 1988; Seidman & Rieder, 1994). Taken together, such studies have tracked a dramatic decline in the average age at which young people in the United States and other Western industrialized societies report the onset of sexual activity (Nathanson & Kim, 1989; Newcomer & Baldwin, 1992). Given the desire to understand this social trend, many current studies of adolescent sexual practices explore the influences of various demographic and structural factors on the onset of sexual activity among adolescents.

Race and gender are among the most prominent influences on the timing of adolescent sexual debut. The 1999 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance system reveals that nearly 7.5% of male White adolescents, 29.9% of male Black adolescents, 3.5% of female White adolescents, and 11.4% of female Black adolescents became sexually active before the age of 13 (Kann et al., 2000; see also Coker et al., 1994; Mosher, 1988). Early onset is associated with a significant increase in the number of sexual partners by mid-adolescence and is positively linked to contraceptive risk-taking activity (e.g., inconsistent condom use); consequently, it is associated with higher incidences of sexually transmitted diseases and unintended pregnancies, as well as increases in adolescent fertility (Coker et al., 1994; Durbin et al., 1993; Nathanson & Kim, 1989; Pugh, DeMaris, Giordano, & Groat, 1990; Williams et al., 1997). By contrast, delayed debut is associated with high levels of parental monitoring and open parent-child communication about sexual issues: the presence of two parents in the home; religious involvement among adolescents, their parents, or their peers; and the manifestation of more traditional values and lifestyles among parents or primary caregivers (Forste & Heaton, 1988; Lammers, Ireland, Resnick, & Blum, 2000; Mott et al., 1996; Murry, 1994; Resnick et al., 1997; for review, see Goodson, Evans, & Edmundson, 1997). Alongside these analyses of structural and demographic influences on adolescent sexual activity and debut, a growing body of scholarship has examined the microdynamics of adolescent sexual attitudes and practices. Several studies in this literature explore the influence of dating and romantic relationships, peer groups, educational-vocational aspirations, and cultural factors on the sexual attitudes and practices of adolescents (Carvajal et al., 1999; Christopher & Cate, 1985; Darling, Davidson, & Passarello, 1992; Herold & Goodwin, 1981; Jessor & Jessor, 1975; Lammers et al., 2000; Murry, 1994; Pleck, Sonenstein, & Swain, 1988; Sprecher, Barbee, & Schwartz, 1995; for review, see Goodson et al. …

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