Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Parenting Processes Related to Sexual Risk-Taking Behaviors of Adolescent Males and Females

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Parenting Processes Related to Sexual Risk-Taking Behaviors of Adolescent Males and Females

Article excerpt

This study extends current research on the relationship of parenting processes to adolescent sexual behavior by asking what parenting behaviors are related to sexual risk taking among sexually active adolescent males and females. Parenting behaviors considered were communication about sexual issues, support, and psychological and behavioral controls. Sexual risk taking was assessed by using a composite measure of the number of sexual partners, the consistency of contraceptive use, and the effectiveness of contraceptive method. The sample of 350 primarily White ninth- to2th-grade students was drawn from a population of 2,257 junior and high school students who were surveyed as part of a larger study. Logistic regression analysis revealed gender differences in the effect of parents' behaviors on the sexual risk taking of their sons and daughters. An interaction effect was observed between parental communication about sexual issues and perceived parental support for males only. For females, parental psychological control increased the odds that a sexually active daughter would take more sexual risks. In addition, parental monitoring significantly decreased the odds that sexually active male and female adolescents would be high risk takers.

Key Words: adolescents, gender differences, parenting, sexual activity.

In the past two decades researchers have examined sexual behaviors and attitudes of adolescents from a variety of theoretical perspectives (Christopher & Roosa, 1991; Miller & Fox, 1987). They have considered biological, psychological, and social factors in an attempt to explain the initiation of coitus and the use of or failure to use contraception in the adolescent population. A review of the literature on adolescent sexuality (Miller & Moore, 1990) uncovered few studies that have focused specifically on the relation between parenting behaviors and teen sexual behaviors and attitudes. Parent-child communication about sexuality has most commonly been examined as a possible cause of teen sexual initiation but with inconclusive results (Fisher, 1989; Fox & Inazu, 1980: Moore, Peterson, & Furstenberg, 1986; Newcomer & Udry, 1985). Parental control (Miller, McCoy, Olson, & Wallace, 1986) and parental attitudes about premarital sex (Herold, 1981; Nathanson & Becker, 1986; Zabin, Stark, & Emerson, 1991) also have been examined. Parental monitoring has been less frequently considered (Miller et al., 1986; Moore et al., 1986; Small & Luster, 1994), as has the overall quality of the parent-child relationship (Crouter, Carson, Vicary, & Butler, 1988; Fox, 1980; Weinstein & Thorton, 1989).

The consequences of high-risk sexual behavior undoubtedly can be negative and lifelong. Well documented are the economic and educational implications of adolescent parenting for both adolescent and offspring (Hofferth, 1987; Maynard, 1996). Increasingly liberal attitudes about premarital sex are reflected in the fact that teens are far more likely to engage in sexual intercourse before finishing high school than they were a decade ago (Maticka-Tyndale,1991). In fact, by the time they graduate from high school, the majority of American teens report that they are sexually experienced (Newcomer & Baldwin, 1992). Pregnancy rates have continued to grow steadily among teens since the late 1980s. Between 1986 and 1991 the rate of births among teens aged 15-19 rose 24% (Moore, 1994). Nearly 1 in 12 teens will become pregnant each year, and half of these pregnancies will result in live births (Trussell, 1988). In addition, high levels of unprotected sexual activity put adolescents at risk of contracting AIDS or other sexually transmitted diseases (Bingham, 1989; Moore & Rosenthal, 1991; Newcomer & Baldwin, 1992).

Given these trends, it is time for researchers to reconsider the "problem" of adolescent sexual behavior. Rather than continue to examine factors associated with sexual initiation, perhaps the more urgent question is: What factors will help sexually active adolescents make responsible sexual choices? …

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