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Long-Term Influence of Sexual Norms and Attitudes on the Onset of Sexual Intercourse Among Urban Minority Youth

May 2, 2003


This article is part of The Body PRO's archive. Because it contains information that may no longer be accurate, this article should only be considered a historical document.

The Journal of School Health recently published a study that examined the initiation of sexual intercourse among minority youth from urban areas. Researchers wanted to determine whether long-held attitudes and perceived norms about peer sexual activity influenced the onset of sexual activity for young people.


Methods

This project was part of The Reach for Health Study (RFH) which monitored young people from the seventh through the tenth grades by surveying their sexual behavior at key intervals during the four years.

The RFH sample included 849 participants who were seventh grade students attending three large middle schools in Brooklyn, NY during two consecutive school years (1994-5 and 1995-6).

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Participants completed one 250-question survey at baseline (in the fall of seventh grade), one in the spring of seventh grade, one in the spring of eighth grade, and one in the spring of tenth grade. Of those participants who completed a baseline survey and remained in school, 87.5% completed surveys at each of the other three check points. Researchers obtained parental consent before administering the surveys to participants.

In this study, researchers used results from questions about sexual norms and attitudes recorded at baseline and in the spring of seventh grade to see if the participants’ responses impacted the onset of sexual activity.


Results

Demographics

  • At baseline, 52% of the sample was female and 48% male
  • The average age of participants at baseline was 12.2 years old
  • The average age of participants at the end of the study was 16.1 years old

Behavior

  • Overall, 73.8% of males and 55.4% of females reported having had sexual intercourse by the end of the study
  • At baseline, 30.7% of males and 7.7% of females reported having had sexual intercourse
  • In the spring of seventh grade, an additional 12.7% of males and 7.5% of females reported having initiated sexual intercourse
  • In the spring of eighth grade, an additional 13.3% of males and 12.9% of females reported having initiated sexual intercourse
  • In the spring of tenth grade an additional 17.1% of males and 27.3% of females reported having initiated sexual intercourse

Sexual Norms Reported at Baseline

  • 23.7% of males and 37.8% of females believed that none of their male peers had had sexual intercourse
  • 31.3% of males and 21.3% of females believed that no more than half of their male peers had had sexual intercourse
  • 15.6% of males and 11.6% of females believed that most of their male peers had had sexual intercourse
  • 28.9% of males and 29.2% of females were unsure whether their male peers had had sexual intercourse
  • 26.0% of males and 21.0% of females believed that none of their female peers had had sexual intercourse
  • 19.5% males and 39.7% of females believed that no more than half of their female peers had had sexual intercourse
  • 9.6% of males and 9.1% of females believed that most of their female peers had had sexual intercourse
  • 34.9% of males and 30.1% of females were unsure whether their female peers had had sexual intercourse

Sexual Outcome Expectancies Reported at Baseline

  • 16.1% of males and 12.3% of females agreed that having sexual intercourse proves that a seventh grade male is a "man"
  • 19.2% of males and 8.8% of females agreed that having sexual intercourse proves that a seventh grade female is a "woman"
  • 17.8% of males and 20.9% of females agreed that having sexual intercourse will earn a seventh grade male respect from his male peers
  • 24.8% of males and 19.8% of females agreed that having sexual intercourse will earn a seventh grade female respect from her female peers
  • 23.9% of males and 15.2% of females agreed that having sexual intercourse allows a boy to show a girl how much he loves her
  • 27.5% of males and 18.2% of females agreed that having sexual intercourse allows a girl to show a boy how much she loves him

Attitudes About Sexual Responsibility and Sex Refusal Skills at Baseline

  • 67.6% of males and 88.9% of females agreed that they should wait until they are older before deciding to have sexual intercourse
  • 65.5% of males and 76.7% of females agreed that they should make sure they are respecting their values and religion before deciding to have sexual intercourse
  • 70.1% of males and 89.1% of females agreed that they should be sure they won’t lose their self-respect before deciding to have sexual intercourse
  • 73.7% of males and 89.8% of females agreed that they should make sure they are not being pressured by their partner before deciding to have sexual intercourse
  • 81.8% of males and 92.1% of females agreed that a couple should be sure that neither partner will get a disease and that the woman will not get pregnant before deciding to have sexual intercourse
  • 39.6% of males and 72.4% of females believed that they could definitely refuse to have sexual intercourse with a partner whom they had been dating for "a while"

The researchers examined the effects of participants’ sexual attitudes and norms on the onset of sexual intercourse and found that:

  • Those who expected the most positive outcomes from initiating sexual intercourse were the most likely to have reported having sexual intercourse at baseline
  • The more positive the expectancies, the earlier the report of first sexual intercourse
  • Those who perceived, at baseline, that a large portion of their peers had initiated sexual intercourse were most likely to report sexual initiation before the spring of tenth grade
  • The stronger the norms for peer sexual involvement at baseline, the earlier the report of first sexual intercourse

The researchers suggest that schools and intervention programs address peer attitudes, expectancies, and norms about sex and sexuality before age 13 to delay the onset of sexual intercourse.


Reference

  1. Lydia O’Donnell, et al., "Long-Term Influence of Sexual Norms and Attitudes on Timing of Sexual Initiation Among Urban Minority Youth," Journal of School Health, February 2003, vol. 23, no. 2, pp. 68-75.



This article was provided by Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States. It is a part of the publication SHOP Talk: School Health Opportunities and Progress Bulletin.
 

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