The influence of primary caregivers on the sexual behavior of early adolescents
PURPOSE: To describe rates of sexual intercourse initiation, anticipated level of sexual activity in the next 12 months, and other risk behaviors among fifth graders and to examine parental factors associated with such behaviors. METHODS: This study is based on a cross-sectional, self-administered survey conducted with a nonrandom sample of 408 fifth graders and their caregivers. Children answered questions regarding sexual intercourse initiation, anticipated sexual activity in the next 12 months, and involvement in other risk behaviors. Caregivers answered questions about parenting factors such as monitoring behaviors, parent-child relationship quality, and parent-child communication. Bivariate and multivariable analyses examined the association of these variables with the adolescents' behaviors. RESULTS: Almost 5% of girls and 17% of boys reported they had engaged in sexual intercourse. Only 34% of girls and 13% of boys said they did not expect to engage in any type of sexual contact in the next 12 months if they were going with someone they "liked a lot." Parental factors associated with fewer risk behaviors and expected sexual behaviors included higher levels of monitoring, fewer communication barriers, less permissive attitudes regarding adolescent sexual behavior, higher relationship quality with child, having fewer than five children in the household, higher levels of education, and being employed. Significant gender interactions were found for several variables. CONCLUSIONS: Adolescents are initiating sexual intercourse at extremely young ages. To delay early sexual activity and prevent adolescent pregnancy, prevention efforts must begin during the elementary school years and include those who raise and care for the adolescent.