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Journal Article

Sex and School: Adolescent Sexual Intercourse and Education

Bill McCarthy and Eric Grodsky
Social Problems
Vol. 58, No. 2 (May 2011), pp. 213-234
DOI: 10.1525/sp.2011.58.2.213
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Page Count: 22
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Sex and School: Adolescent Sexual Intercourse and Education
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A number of studies document a negative relationship between adolescent sexual intercourse and high school educational experiences and outcomes; yet, this research risks conflating the consequences associated with sex in romantic relationships with those that result when sex occurs in other relationship contexts. We predict that, compared to abstinence, intercourse in romantic relationships will have limited consequences for education, whereas the negative effects associated with sex in other relationships will be pronounced. We evaluate our hypothesis with two waves of data on nine measures of educational experiences and outcomes from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. Our results are generally consistent with our predictions: the context in which sexual activity occurs substantially moderates the relationship between sexual intercourse and several education measures. These findings contradict the claims some abstinence-only curricula make regarding the link between adolescent sex and a plethora of negative outcomes. We speculate that such programs reinforce the notion that sex, and in particular sex that occurs in nonromantic relationships, is counternormative. As a result, they may needlessly increase the risk that some sexually active adolescents will have negative educational experiences and outcomes.

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