Why Do Adolescents Engage in Sexually Risky Activities  Research Paper

Excerpt from Research Paper :

Sexual Activity in Adolescence

The scholarly literature on adolescence and health reflects the fact that some young people make risky decisions regarding sexual activities -- and the use of drugs also plays a role in their behavior. In this paper, those issues and others related to adolescent behaviors -- including the earlier initiation of sexual activities -- will be presented through in-depth analysis.

Adolescent Sexual Activities and Psychosocial Adjustments

There has been an assumption in the literature for some time that when adolescents delay their first sexual experience, they adjust better psychosocially as young adults a bit later in their lives. Another assumption has been that instances where young adults have their first sexual intercourse experience between 16 and 18 years of age "…are linked to lower adjustment in many life domains" (Haase, 2012, 199).

However, a peer-reviewed research article in the journal European Psychologist challenges those notions with empirical data that is both interesting and myth-shattering. In fact some of the research presented reflects that in fact "…that not only early but also late timing of first sexual experiences can be associated with lower psychosocial adjustment in selected domains of young adulthood" (Haase, 199). The authors of this article reference the research of Havighurst, 1976, Heckhausen, 1999; Heckhausen, Wrosch & Schulz, 2010; Neugarten & Neugarten, 1996; and Settersten, 2009, as having contributed to the theory that being "off time" (whether too early or too late with initial sexual activities) leads to "lower adjustment" as young adults (Haase, 199).

But does being too early -- or too late -- with one's initial sexual engagement create a situation that is "maladaptive," as the above-mentioned research asserts? This article at first challenges existing notions about the too early or too late concept, but ends up unsure of just what is true and what is not. The conclusion Haase and colleagues come up with on page 209 reflects that "late sexual timing carried its own adjustment risks regarding social relations and well-being," and that having been said, they add that "other forms of 'problem behavior' in adolescence may be linked to lower adjustment" (Haase, 209).

Those other forms of "problem behavior" are not spelled out by the authors, but clearly youthfulness is a time of dramatic changes and challenges that have nothing to do with sexuality and hence, the article seems a little thin on the big picture during adolescence. In reviewing the research by Haase and colleagues, they admit on numerous occasions in the article that their findings could be skewed. The word "limitations" appears five times on pages 208 and 209; this in itself is not enough to negate the value of the research, but questions can be raised as to how solid the findings really are in this case.

For example, the "self-report" surveys that were used with adolescents could be misinterpreted because about 60% of respondents in one study "did not classify oral sex as 'having sex'" (Haase, 208). The authors agreed that some adolescents may have viewed the term "sexual experiences" as meaning vaginal intercourse, when the researchers were actually just trying to find out about such activities as serious petting, mutual masturbation, and other sensual acts between teens. Hence, with this level of confusion, how can a research article be thoroughly believed? Having the authors say there needs to be additional research is an understatement.

Early Risky Sexual Behavior and Rural Adolescents

The authors of this research piece in the journal Issues in Comprehensive Pediatric Nursing explain that most of the research involving the early and risky sexual behaviors of adolescents has focused on urban adolescent behavior. Hence, they delved into the topic in a rural setting, conducting a longitudinal study of 255 adolescents (between ages 14 and 17).

On pages 192 and 193, the authors put forth five hypotheses about what they expected to find: a) males will show more risky sexual behaviors than females; b) those from low socioeconomic status (SES) will engage in more risky behaviors than those from high SES; c) those engaged in risky sexual activities will score lower in "religiosity, social connectedness, parental monitoring, and parent-adolescent communication" than those not taking sexual risks; d) greater peer influence will be linked to those taking sexual risks; and e) those taking risks will be more apt to smoke marijuana and tobacco and to consume alcohol (Rew, et al., 2011).

As to the first hypothesis (a), it was wrong: rural males reported "fewer sexual-risk behaviors" than females. The second hypothesis (b) was wrong: SES differences did not matter. Hypothesis three (c): this was "partially supported" because sexually risky adolescents did report lower scores on religiosity, parent-adolescent communication, social connectedness and parent monitoring. The fourth hypothesis (d) was "fully supported" because sexually risky adolescents did score significantly higher" on peer influence. The fifth hypothesis (e) turned out to be correct because those engaged in "sexual-risk behaviors also engaged in significantly more additional health-risk behaviors" (drugs, alcohol and cigarettes) (Rew, 198-199).

In their "Discussion" section the authors effectively presented an in-depth narrative on their own findings compared with existing research conducted with urban adolescents. They helped explain why rural adolescents are a bit more cautious vis-a-vis risky sexual behaviors: that may be because rural adolescents "…have limited opportunities to interact with other adults" and hence, tend to bond more with their parents in a caring way (Rew, 199).

The authors candidly admit -- in their "Limitations and Strengths" section -- that this study cannot be "generalized" to all rural adolescent dynamics; however, the research does have validity regarding rural adolescents because it was conducted in three different rural areas (Rew, 201). Moreover the Conclusion is very specific and pointed: The majority of rural adolescents "…reported no sexual-risk behaviors," and they tended to be more religious, more connected to "caring adults," and less influenced by peers as regards smoking and substance abuse than adolescents in urban settings (Rew, 201). The authors do say "more study is needed" with larger samples of rural adolescents, but unlike the previous research study, very little equivocation is to be found in this article.

Personality as a Factor in Adolescent Risky Sexual Behaviors

An article in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology examined the question of whether or not there is an "underlining cause" -- which could relate to personality -- to adolescent behaviors such as low educational achievement, delinquency, substance use, poor academic performance, and "…indiscriminate, precocious, or risky sexual behavior" (Cooper, et al., 2003). The authors note previous research has pointed to "a similar set of personality" traits -- like sensation seeking and impulsivity -- that have been linked to risky sexual behaviors among adolescents (Cooper, 391). Also, depression, low self-image, and "poor coping skills" have also been linked to risky sexual activities (and to substance use and delinquency (Cooper, 391).

In this research, the researchers surveyed1, 978 Caucasian and African-American adolescents -- average age, 16.7 years, about half male and half female -- and then these individuals were interviewed again at an average age of 21.4 years (Cooper, 394). Thirty professionals conducted the interviews, which were carefully matched on gender (equal number of males and females) and race (equal number of black and white individuals), were two hours in length.

The results showed that adolescent personalities that include "impulsivity and avoidance coping" -- referenced by the authors as "dysfunctional styles of regulating emotions" and "emotionally driven behaviors" -- are very likely to result in those adolescents' engagement in risky sexual behaviors (Cooper, 396). This was a carefully crafted research project which paid particular attention to ethnicity and gender, and took the extra step of interviewing people in adolescence and in early adulthood. It may seem logical to the reader to assume that adolescents that are impulsive or those who avoid reality would be among those engaging in reckless behaviors; but when empirical research proves that this is true, it opens the door to understanding far better than mere conjecture, stereotyping or generalizations based on superficial observations.

Urban Adolescents Exposed to Violence -- Risky Sexual Behavior Research

A 2012 research article in the Journal of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners examines the gender differences when it comes to risky sexual behaviors among urban adolescents exposed to violence. A thorough job of research was conducted by three nurses with PhD degrees, who gleaned data from 2,560 urban adolescents between the ages of 14-21.

The results of this research showed that females in the inner city who owned and carried a weapon -- and who felt "safe in intimate relationships" -- were "individual candidates for risky sexual behavior" (Fantasia, 2012, 436). As for male adolescents in urban settings, those who engaged in "physical fights" were likely to also be involved in early and risky sexual behaviors (Fantasia, 436). This is the only research article critiqued for this paper that offered solutions for adolescents that risk health through their sexual adventures. To wit, "Nurse Practitioners are in an excellent position to affect change in this population," Fantasia asserts (436).…

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