Adolescent Sexual Risk Behaviors: The Role of Family, Peer, and School Social Norms

Rebekah Levine Coley, Boston College
Alicia Doyle Lynch, Boston College
James Mahalik, Boston College
Jacqueline Sims, Boston College

For the majority of youth in the United States, adolescence marks both the initiation of sexual activity and the period in which individuals are most at risk for negative sexual outcomes such as unplanned pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STI’s). A sudden increase in teenage pregnancy rates in 2006-2007 prompted renewed interest in the causes and correlates of adolescent sexual risk-taking behaviors. Recent work in this area has focused on the role of both subjective and descriptive social norms within adolescents’ proximal contexts. Using longitudinal, multi-source data on a representative sample of American youth (Add Health), this paper examines prospective associations between social norms within three contexts (family, peers and schools) and adolescents’ use of reliable birth control, engagement in risky sex, and number of sexual partners. Results suggest that social norms from families, peers, and school can simultaneously play a role in predicting adolescent sexual health outcomes.

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Presented in Session 27: Sexual Behavior and STIs