The way in which adolescent sexual risk is defined, and the subsequent social value assigned to teen sexual behavior, shapes policy priorities and research attention. Though typically evaluated dichotomously, I argue that there are substantial benefits to measuring risk on a continuum. A perspective that distinguishes between levels of risk allows us to recognize that some teens are indeed engaging in more responsible behavior than other, and perhaps learning from the messages that safer sex proponents are promoting. Moreover, this conceptualization enables us to identify teens who are at the greatest risk of becoming or causing a pregnancy or contracting or passing along a sexually transmitted infection (STI).
Using data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health), I create a new risk typology based on teens' relationship status, number of partners, frequency of intercourse and contraceptive behavior. Utilizing this information I constructed a multi-categorical pregnancy risk scale and a separate multi-categorical STI risk scale. I then conducted ordered logit regression analyses to evaluate the relationship between demographic, structural, and psychosocial predictors and pregnancy and STI risk.
Adding nuance to how we understand teen sexual risk taking gives us the tools to contemplate differences in pregnancy and STI risk and allows us to consider whether teens might have different motivations for avoiding pregnancy versus an STI or HIV. My findings indicate that the vast majority of younger teens (11-15 year olds) have not had sex. Among the older teens, most who have had sex have had minimally risky sexual encounters. Teens who have engaged in more risky behavior (i.e., multiple partners outside of a romantic relationship) are also more likely to utilize contraception inconsistently, indicating that risk begets risk. These findings have key policy implications for how we approach the topic of prevention.
|Commitee:||Cordes, Joseph, Deitch, Cindy, Kennelly, Ivy, Ku, Leighton|
|School:||The George Washington University|
|Department:||Public Policy and Administration|
|School Location:||United States -- District of Columbia|
|Source:||DAI-A 69/02, Dissertation Abstracts International|
|Subjects:||Womens studies, Public health, Public policy|
|Keywords:||Adolescent, National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, Sexual risk taking, Sexually transmitted infections, Social policy, Teen pregnancy, Teen sexual behavior|
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