Female Adolescent Contraceptive Decision Making and Risk Taking

By Johnson, Sharon A.; Green, Vicki | Adolescence, Spring 1993 | Go to article overview

Female Adolescent Contraceptive Decision Making and Risk Taking


Johnson, Sharon A., Green, Vicki, Adolescence


Although research on the antecedents of adolescent contraceptive usage has focused on a wide variety of areas (e.g., personality and motivation, demography), the present research concerns the adolescent's ability to make decisions pertaining to contraceptive use and how that ability relates to contraceptive risk taking. For a brief review of other areas of study, see Green, Johnson, and Kaplan (1992); for an extensive review of this literature, see Morrison (1985).

Brooks-Gunn and Furstenberg (1989) identified social cognitive ability as a potential perspective for understanding adolescent sexual decision making. Gordon (1990) and Cobliner (1974) identified aspects of adolescent reasoning (formal operational thinking) as relevant to decision making about contraceptives. The literature documents cognitive capacity as an important factor in decision making related to contraceptive use (Rogel, Zuehlke, Peterson, Tobin-Richards, & Shelton, 1980; Smith, Nenney, Weinman, & Mumford, 1982). Two other potentially related factors are adolescent cognitive egocentrism (Cvetkovich, Grote, Bjorseth, & Sarkissian, 1975; Elkind, 1978; Peel, 1971) and familiarity with the content domain in which the decision is being made (Byrnes, 1988; Levine & Linn, 1977).

Green et al. (1992) examined these three factors, cognitive (adolescent reasoning) ability, adolescent cognitive egocentrism, and experience in contraceptive decision making (the decision to use contraceptives), as predictors of decision making in a contraceptive use paradigm. Fifty sexually active, unmarried females, ages 14-19, served as subjects. Cognitive ability and cognitive egocentrism variables were significantly predictive of several of the decision-making variables, while the decision to use contraceptives was not found to be a significant predictor. Forty-one percent of the variance was accounted for in predicting the canonical decision-making variable. Green et al. concluded that one possible reason for the nonsignificance of the experience factor was that a single dichotomous variable was used (using/seeking contraceptives versus not using contraceptives); a more elaborate variable or set of variables might have yielded different results. The literature on adolescent sexuality identifies specific measures of sexual and contraceptive behaviors and attitudes (see Zelnik & Kantner, 1979). These might be of value in predicting contraceptive decision making.

A logical extension of decision making related to contraceptive use would be to focus upon risk-taking behavior--engaging in sexual intercourse without using contraceptives. Although no study directly demonstrates the relationship of contraceptive use decision making to contraceptive use risk taking, Adler, Kegeles, and Irwin (1987) showed that adolescent behavioral intention is related to actual use of contraceptives. Possible predictors of such risk taking have been identified in the research literature. For example, the level of sexual activity is positively related to contraceptive usage (Geis & Gerrard, 1984). Also adolescents demonstrate erroneous beliefs/attitudes about nonuse of contraceptives (Delamater & MacCorquodale, 1979; Kantner & Zelnik, 1972). These factors may directly influence such risk taking. Additionally, certain demographic variables (i.e., age, gender, and ethnic status) are related to unprotected sexual activity (Zelnik & Shah, 1983).

The present research was a modified replication of the Green et al. (1992) study. Cognitive capacity, cognitive egocentrism, experience, and demographic factors were examined as predictors of decision making in a contraceptive use paradigm. Experience was assessed by two questionnaires, one measuring sexual/contraceptive behaviors, the other sexual/contraceptive attitudes. Additionally, the present study examined cognitive capacity, cognitive egocentrism, experience, and demographic variables as predictors of risk-taking behavior--nonsensible use of contraceptives. …

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