The Relation between Self-Esteem, Sexual Activity, and Pregnancy

By Robinson, Rachel B.; Frank, Deborah I. | Adolescence, Spring 1994 | Go to article overview

The Relation between Self-Esteem, Sexual Activity, and Pregnancy


Robinson, Rachel B., Frank, Deborah I., Adolescence


INTRODUCTION

The high incidence of teenage pregnancy is a problem that continues to face our society. The United States leads all other developed nations in the incidence of pregnancy among adolescents aged 15-19 (Wallis, 1985). Further, studies indicate an increase in sexual activity among the teen population (Lundberg & Plotnick, 1990) with an estimated 50-58% being sexually active, suggesting that teen pregnancy will continue to be a major problem.

Research aimed at evaluating sex education as a means of preventing teen pregnancy has suggested that it will not be effective unless contraceptive services and community support are available (Hayes et al., 1987). Further, Hepfer (1988) recommends that programs should focus on increasing adolescents' self-esteem, since they are in the stage where developing a positive self-concept is a major task. This recommendation is supported by research which reveals a relation among poor self-concept, sexual activity, and pregnancy (Kissman, 1990). Others have asserted that teenage boys confirm their masculinity through sexual activity and fathering children (Friedman, 1990; Castiglia, 1990).

While sexual activity and resulting pregnancy may be a means for bolstering self-esteem and sexual identity, the research is certainly not conclusive. For instance, Dilorio and Riley (1988) found no relation between the variables of diminished self-concept, loneliness, and pregnancy. Further, McCullough and Scherman (1991), found that their sample of pregnant adolescents and teen mothers did not have negative views of themselves. In addition, there is a paucity of empirical data about teenage males to support the self-esteem, sexual activity, fathering a child linkage (Meyer, 1991). Thus, this study sought to further examine the relation between self-esteem, sexuality, and pregnancy in a racially mixed sample of male and female teens.

HYPOTHESES

Four hypotheses regarding sexual activity, pregnancy, and self-esteem were examined.

1. Sexually active males will report higher levels of self-esteem than nonsexually active males.

2. Sexually active females will report lower levels of self-esteem than nonsexually active females.

3. Pregnant females will report higher levels of self-esteem than nonpregnant females.

4. Males who have fathered a child will report higher levels of self-esteem than those who have not.

Sample

The sample consisted of 287 students from two university-affiliated high schools and 16 pregnant teenagers from a local physician's office. The ages ranged from 13 to 19 with 83% being between ages 15 to 18. Males comprised 45% of the sample and females 55%. The participants were 40% black, 53% white, 2% Hispanic, and 6% unspecified. About half of the sample were Baptist, 10% were Catholic, 6% Jewish, with the rest indicating "other" for their religion affiliation.

Instruments

The Coopersmith Self-Esteem Inventory was one of the measures used. This 25-item tool asks the participant to categorize statements describing various personality traits as "unlike me" or "like me." The highest possible score indicating a high level of self-esteem is 25. It has a reported split-half reliability of .90, correlations of .59 and .60, with the Rosenborg Scale of Self-Esteem (Robinson & Shaver, 1973). The results of this study showed a reliability coefficient of alpha = .7974. Additionally, subjects were asked to respond to open-ended questions from Roy's assessment of self-concept (Roy, 1984). These included questions about goals, appearance, and personal characteristics. Finally, questions about sexual activity and demographic characteristics were asked.

Procedure

Upon receiving approval from the appropriate institutional review boards to ensure protection of the subjects' rights, students were asked to participate in the study. Parental as well as student consent was obtained. Students filled out the surveys in the classroom. …

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