Academic Goals, Achievement and Age at First Sexual Intercourse: Longitudinal, Bidirectional Influences

By Schvaneveldt, Paul L.; Miller, Brent C. et al. | Adolescence, Winter 2001 | Go to article overview

Academic Goals, Achievement and Age at First Sexual Intercourse: Longitudinal, Bidirectional Influences


Schvaneveldt, Paul L., Miller, Brent C., Berry, E. Helen, Lee, Thomas R., Adolescence


Approximately 22% of females and 27% of males have had intercourse by age 15, and about 76% and 85%, respectively, by age 19 (Alan Guttmacher Institute, 1998). Many factors have been linked to the early onset of sexual activity among adolescents, such as peer influences, level of educational achievement, community characteristics, gender, race, and parental influences (Brewster, 1994; Furstenberg, Morgan, Moore, & Peterson, 1987; Miller, Norton, Curtis, Hill, Schvaneveldt, & Young, 1997). There are also many consequences; early sexual activity has been linked to a wide range of social problems, including lower levels of academic achievement (Brooke, Balka, Abernathy, & Hamburg, 1994; Miller & Sneesby, 1988), higher rates of unwanted pregnancies (Hayes, 1987; Zabin & Howard, 1993), sexually transmitted diseases (Greenberg, Magder, & Aral, 1992), multiple sexual partners, and involvement in other risky behaviors, such as substance use and delinquency (Donovan, 1996; Jessor & Jessor, 1975). An understanding of b oth the factors predicting early sexual activity and its consequences is important for more effectively preventing and ameliorating the social costs of early sexual intercourse.

This study focused on the bidirectional influences of educational factors and the onset of sexual activity. In some longitudinal research, lower academic aspirations and achievement have been shown to increase the likelihood of subsequent sexual activity (Costa, Jessor, Donovan, & Fortenberry, 1995; Jessor & Jessor, 1975; Marini, 1984; Rindfuss, Bumpass, & St. John, 1980; Upchurch & McCarthy, 1990). However, evidence also suggests that initiating sexual intercourse at a young age, particularly prior to age 15, has a significant negative effect on subsequent academic goals and achievement (Billy, Landale, Grady, & Zimmerle, 1988; Brooke, Balka, Abernathy, & Hamburg, 1994; Jessor, Costa, Jessor, & Donovan, 1983; Meilman, 1993; Mott & Marsiglio, 1985). Ohannessian and Crockett (1993) reported a bidirectional relationship between educational investment and adolescent sexual activity in a longitudinal sample from Pennsylvania. The present research examined this relationship in a national longitudinal sample in or der to further explore and document possible bidirectional effects.

Association of Education with Sexual Activity

Academic achievement has been shown to predict the sexual activity of adolescents. One longitudinal study indicated that poor academic performance in grade four significantly predicted sexual activity by grade nine (Capaldi, Crosby, & Stoolmiller, 1996). Farrel, Danish, and Howard (1992) found a negative association between student grade point average and sexual activity: those who were sexually active had a lower grade point average than those who were not. Adolescents with higher grades and higher scores on intelligence tests generally are less likely to initiate sexual activity at younger ages (Donovan, Jessor, & Costa, 1988; Dorius, Heaton, & Steffen, 1993; Farrel, Danish, & Howard, 1992; Flamer & Davis, 1990; Furstenberg, Morgan, Moore, & Peterson, 1987; Hayes, 1987; Philliber & Tatum, 1982; Udry & Billy, 1987).

Educational attainment also is related to sexual activity, in that dropping out of school significantly increases the odds of intercourse for males and females (Dorius et al., 1993). Women with more years of education report a later age at first sexual intercourse (Wyatt, 1989). Rindfuss, Bumpass, and St. John (1980) estimated that for each additional year of education that women attain, sexual activity is delayed by .75 years.

Educational goals also have been shown to influence sexual activity for males and females. Having low educational goals is associated with a high incidence of sexual activity during the teen years (Handler, 1990; Hendricks & Montgomery, 1984; Hogan & Kitagawa, 1985). …

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