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Reconceptualizing Adolescent Sexual Behavior: Beyond Did They or Didn't They?

Daniel J. Whitaker, Kim S. Miller and Leslie F. Clark
Family Planning Perspectives
Vol. 32, No. 3 (May - Jun., 2000), pp. 111-117
Published by: Guttmacher Institute
DOI: 10.2307/2648159
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2648159
Page Count: 7
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Reconceptualizing Adolescent Sexual Behavior: Beyond Did They or Didn't They?
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Abstract

Context: Adolescent sexual behavior is typically studied as a dichotomy: Adolescents have had sex or they have not. Broadening this view would lead to a greater understanding of teenagers' sexual behavior. Methods: Interview data from 907 high school students in Alabama, New York and Puerto Rico were used to examine the relationships between sexual experience and a variety of social, psychological and behavioral variables. Four groups of teenagers are compared: those who did not anticipate initiating sex in the next year (delayers), those who anticipated initiating sex in the next year (anticipators), those who had had one sexual partner (singles) and those who had had two or more partners (multiples). Results: Compared with delayers, anticipators reported more alcohol use and marijuana use; poorer psychological health; riskier peer behaviors; and looser ties to family, school and church. Similarly, multiples reported more alcohol and marijuana use, riskier peer behaviors and looser ties to family and school than singles. Risk behaviors, peer behaviors, family variables, and school and church involvement showed a linear trend across the four categories of sexual behavior. Conclusions: The traditional sex-no sex dichotomy obscures differences among sexually inexperienced teenagers and among adolescents who have had sex. Prevention efforts must be tailored to the specific needs of teenagers with differing sexual experiences and expectations, and must address the social and psychological context in which sexual experiences occur.

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