Variation in sexual behaviors in a cohort of adolescent females: The role of personal, perceived peer, and perceived family attitudes

Aletha Y. Akers, Melanie A. Gold, James E. Bost, Ada A. Adimora, Donald P. Orr, J. Dennis Fortenberry

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

19 Scopus citations


Purpose Little is known about how adolescent sexual behaviors develop and the influence of personal or perceived social attitudes. We sought to describe how personal, perceived peer, and perceived family attitudes toward adolescent sexual activity influence sexual behaviors of adolescent females' over time. Methods Between the years of 1999 and 2006, 358 English-speaking female adolescents, aged 1417 years, were recruited from three urban adolescent clinics. Participants completed quarterly and annual questionnaires over a span of 4 years. Primary outcomes included engagement in any of the following eight sexual behaviors: kissing, having breasts touched, having genitals touched, touching partners' genitals, oral giving, oral receiving, anal, or vaginal sex. Three attitudinal scales assessed personal importance of abstinence, perceived peer beliefs about when to have sex, and perceived family beliefs that adolescent sex is negative. We used generalized estimating equations to identify predictors of each sexual behavior and compared whether personal, perceived peer, or perceived family attitudes predicted sexual behaviors over time. Results The odds of reporting each sexual behavior increased with age but were lower among those whose personal or perceived family attitudes were less positive. Participants' personal attitudes toward adolescent sex were the strongest predictor of engagement in all eight sexual behaviors even after controlling for perceived peer and perceived family attitudes. Conclusions Female adolescent's personal attitudes toward abstinence appear to be the strongest predictor of engagement in a variety of sexual behaviors. Efforts to influence adolescent attitudes toward abstinence may be an important approach to reducing sexual behaviors that increase the risk of pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)87-93
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Adolescent Health
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2011


  • Adolescent sexual behavior
  • Adolescents
  • Attitudes
  • Family
  • Peer group

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health

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