Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Friends' behavior and parental values influence rates of unprotected vaginal intercourse among teens

The attitudes of both friends and parents towards contraception and vaginal intercourse have an impact on later adolescent sexual behavior, according to a new study. This is important information because, in 2001, unintended pregnancies accounted for more than 75 percent of all pregnancies in women under 24 years old. Furthermore, a 1-year delay is typical between when adolescent girls begin sexual activity and when they seek out contraceptive services. The researchers analyzed factors influencing a main outcome of unprotected vaginal intercourse, based on two sets of interviews a year apart (mean age 15.7 years for the first interview and 16.3 years for the second).

A teen who reported at the initial interview having a friend who engaged in sexual intercourse, either with or without protection against pregnancy, doubled the risk that the teen would report at follow-up having had unprotected vaginal intercourse versus never having had intercourse. Teens who had a distant relationship with their fathers were 2.4 times more likely than those with a close paternal relationship to report at follow-up having had unprotected intercourse versus never having had intercourse.

Parental attitudes towards teens having intercourse or towards use of contraception did not significantly influence the behavior of teens at follow-up at 16 years of age. This is consistent with the hypothesis that parental attitudes were most influential before the teens reached 15 years of age. Nor was there a significant effect on the risk of having had unprotected intercourse by follow-up of teens' own attitude towards adolescent pregnancy or their confidence in being able to use contraception. The findings were based on analysis of data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, with baseline interviews of 6,649 teens conducted in 1995 and follow-up interviews with 3,899 teens in 1996. The study was funded in part by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (HS15491).

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