Why Do Some Adolescents Have Risky Sex? The Role of Family Background, Childhood Behaviors, and Adolescent Relationships

Elizabeth Cooksey, Ohio State University
Frank Mott, Ohio State University
Darcy W. Hango, Ohio State University

More than half of American youth have had sexual intercourse by the time they turn 18. Despite recent increases in condom use among adolescents, many teens fail to engage in "safe" sexual practices and hence put themselves at risk of both unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Using a life course perspective and data from the NLSY from 1979 through 2000, we explore the question of why some youth engage in risky sex whereas others either abstain from intercourse altogether, or engage in safe sexual practices at various ages between 15 and 20. Drawing on our own previous research findings, as well as the findings of others concerning the importance of romantic relationships to the likelihood of sexual intercourse, we pay particular attention to how relationship profiles in early adolescence might relate to later patterns of sexual behavior, and to potentially important differences in relationship trajectories and sexual practices by race and gender.

Presented in Session 139: Adolescent Reproductive Health in Developed Countries