Primary Sources: Bringing Stability Into the Lives of Young Women May Prevent Sexual Risk Behaviors

Photograph of a young woman holding text books.

Life Experiences of Instability and Sexual Risk Behaviors Among High-Risk Adolescent Females” (abstract). Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, Vol. 45, No. 2 (June 2013).

What it’s about: The authors wanted to know whether young people who grew up in unstable or chaotic homes were more likely to become pregnant or get sexually transmitted infections. With the help of two school-based clinics and two community clinics in Minneapolis and St. Paul, researchers studied 241 sexually active adolescent girls who were at high risk for pregnancy and STIs.

Why read it: Earlier research shows that understanding the reasons for young people’s sexual behavior is crucial to helping them avoid pregnancy and STIs. It also indicates that certain types of behaviors and environmental factors, such as using substances or being from an unstable family, may make it more likely that adolescents will take sexual risks. The authors wanted to know which of these factors were most dangerous for youth in terms of pregnancy and STIs.

Biggest takeaways for family and youth workers: The researchers looked at "individual risks"--such as substance use, violence perpetration, violence victimization and having witnessed violence--and at "family risks"--such as family disconnection, poor family communication and perceived lack of safety at home. The researchers compared these factors to the likelihood that young women in the study would use condoms at six months follow-up.

The individual risks did not influence whether the young women used condoms consistently, but they were associated with having multiple sex partners. Youth who were disengaged from their families used condoms less consistently than others in the study. Both individual and family risk factors were linked to youth using condoms inconsistently and having multiple sex partners. But the authors say that protective social influences have a stronger impact on consistent condom use than the presence or absence of risky behaviors.

Having a stable family environment, the authors say, makes it more likely that young people will develop social and emotional skills that enable them to, for example, effectively negotiate condom use with a partner. The authors say youth services programs that take into account the whole family, not just an individual young person, may help prevent teen pregnancy and STIs.

Additional references:

"Adolescent Health Services: Missing Opportunities," by the National Research Council and Institute of Medicine, suggests that health systems for adolescents should incorporate prevention and health promotion services. In "Primary Sources: Could Protecting Boys From Sexual Abuse Also Prevent Teen Pregnancy?" we looked at a study that found young men who had experienced sexual abuse were more likely to have gotten someone pregnant.

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