Adolescent Sex, Mental Health, and Academic Engagement: The Role of Norms

Eric Grodsky, University of Minnesota
Ann Meier, University of Minnesota
Bill McCarthy, University of California, Davis
Alain Vandormael, University of Minnesota

Adolescent sex has clear and direct links to several aspects of physical health: pregnancy and STIs. We know less about how sexual activity influences other outcomes that shape well-being in adolescence. Some prior research links adolescent sex to depression, disinterest in education, and risky behaviors, yet the mechanisms remain ambiguous. In this paper we examine the degree to which the associations between sex and depression, GPA, and school problems vary based by gender, timing, and school context. We argue that these attributes are associated with variation in norms about sex and thus in the social (dis)comfort associated with sexual experimentation. Preliminary findings indicate that the associations between sex and negative outcomes are stronger for those who have sex early and for girls. Furthermore, we find substantial variability across schools between sex and average outcomes, suggesting that, indeed, schools represent different social contexts to which their students are exposed.

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Presented in Session 9: Sexual and Romantic Relationships