Early predictors of sexually intimate behaviors in an urban sample of young girls

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There have been concerns about girls being involved in sexual activities at young ages. This study examines the prevalence and predictors of sexually intimate behaviors at age 12 in an urban community. A sample of 1116 ethnically diverse girls was used. Three groups were identified: no sexual behavior, mild behavior like holding hands and moderate behavior like lying together. Alcohol use, poor parent-child communication, peer behavior, interaction between ethnicity, low self esteem and depression were some of the reasons for early intimate behaviors Sexual activity is more evident in girls than boys.

This early initiation is associated with increased rates of pregnancy due to lower rates of contraception use and sexually transmitted infections (Albert. B. , Brown. S. & Flannigan. C. (Eds). (2003). It also elicits more social stigma and negative emotional consequences for girls than boys. In this study we take a look at the characteristics associated with young girls sexually intimate behaviors. Early sexual behavior as part of a problem behavior syndrome. Environmental factors e. g. low parental controls increase the likelihood of problem behaviors occurring.

Parental and peer influences: Low household income and having a single parent are both an onset of early sexual activity (Rose. A. , koo. H. , Bhaskar. B, Anderson. K. , White. G, & Jenkins. R (2005). Many adolescents associate having sex with high social status and popularity among peers. Depressed mood and sexual activity: Depressed girls seek intimacy to fend off social isolation (Kovacs. M. , Krol. R. , & Voti. L. (1994). Impact of pubertal development on sexual behavior: Early maturation elicits early sexual activity due to increased freedom from parents.

Present study. Its goal is to determine the prevalence of sexual behavior among young adolescent girls and the effects of ethnicity on prospective relationships. In this study 2,451 girls were recruited. 25% of the families lived in poverty . A sample of 1116 girls was used and none was found to have had sex by age 12 . These research was carried out through face to face interviews with the subjects. Data was then collected through parent reports which included information on ethnicity. Parental warmth was also assessed.

It evaluated the frequency of positive and negative feelings by parents towards their daughters. Lower volumes of warmth were noted. Communication between parents and their daughters was also checked. Parents were asked how often they spoke with their daughters on plans for the coming day. Very poor levels of communication were denoted. Self worth with a perception of peers was also put to test. Their self competence and generalized perception was checked with high scores being reflected. Some intimate behaviors like hugging a boy were the most reported cases at age 11 and 12.

At age 11, as intimate behavior increased, the odds of being in the moderate behavior group did increase by 95%. The likelihood of inclusion in the moderate to mild behavior was also increased as a result of low parental warmth. In this study therefore, unique effects in the individual domain were identified. That behavior problems, poor parenting and peer factors would be predictive of early intimate behaviors. It also revealed that alcohol use, poor parenting, and low self worth increased the likelihood of girls engaging in moderate behaviors.

Limitations The study did have several limitations. Social cognitions were not assessed, for example the girls intentions to engage in intimacy, perceptions of peer approval to sexual behavior and beliefs concerning heterosexual relationships. These variables could have improved the study as they could have aided the understanding of the effects of ethnic group on relationships between social self worth and the emerging intimate behavior by giving us more information on social norms and pressure from peer group interactions.

Some girls could also have underreported their experience for fear of repercussions or they felt uncomfortable discussing them in a face to face interview. In conclusion, this study contributes to the knowledge of sexually intimate behaviors in young girls and it also provides insights into the possible effects of individual and environmental characteristics on the emerging sexually intimate behaviors. It also points out that factors leading to early sexual behavior vary as a function of ethnic group. Prevention methods that create awareness on the social norms are therefore more effective.

References Albert. B. , Brown. S. & Flannigan. C. (Eds). (2003). 14 and younger: The sexual behavior of young adolescents. Washington. DC: National campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. Rose. A. , koo. H. , Bhaskar. B, Anderson. K. , White. G, & Jenkins. R (2005). The Influence of primary caregivers on the sexual behavior of early adolescents. Journal of Adolescent Health. 37, 135-144. Kovacs. M. , Krol. R. ,& Voti. L. (1994). Early onset psychopathology and the risk for teen pregnancy among clinically referred girls. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent psychiatry,33, 106-113.

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