What Factors Lead Young People to Take Sexual Risks?

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A young couple.

Dating Violence and Substance Use as Longitudinal Predictors of Adolescents’ Risky Sexual Behavior” (abstract). Ryan C. Shorey, Paula J. Fite, HyeJeong Choi, Joseph R. Cohen, Gregory L. Stuart, Jeff R. Temple. Prevention Science, Vol. 16, No. 6 (2015).

What it’s about: Researchers Shorey, Fite, Choi, Cohen, Stuart, and Temple wanted to know whether personal experiences with dating violence and substance use among young people could be used to predict unhealthy sexual behaviors in the future. To find out, they surveyed 882 students from seven public high schools in Texas, then queried the same students a year later. The young people in the study identified as Caucasian, African American, and Latino males and females.

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Why read it: Physical and psychological dating violence, substance use, and risky sexual behaviors (e.g., having sex at a young age, having sex while under the influence of intoxicants, having sex without a condom, having multiple sexual partners, etc.) are prevalent among adolescents, the authors write. However, few studies have simultaneously explored how use of specific substances and various types of dating violence are linked with risky sexual behaviors. By examining whether experiences of dating violence or substance use correlated with risky sexual behaviors in young people, Shorey’s research team sought to inform prevention efforts that address these issues.

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Biggest takeaways from the research: In the initial assessment, risky sexual behaviors among young people were linked with:

  • Physical and psychological violence, experienced as a victim or perpetrator.
  • Marijuana cocaine, inhalants, ecstasy, or amphetamine use.

At the assessment taken a year later, risky sexual behaviors were linked with:

  • Physical violence victimization.
  • Alcohol use.
  • Marijuana use.
  • Older age (11th and 12th grade youth).

There were no significant differences in the outcomes among the genders or ethnicities included in this study. However, all of the youth surveyed were from Texas, leading researchers to suggest that a broader sample size might detect additional variables.

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Shorey et al. suggest that efforts to prevent risky sexual behaviors in adolescents may benefit from targeting substance use and dating violence. They note that many programs focus on only one risk factor instead of multiple. Furthermore, interventions were recommended at the individual, family, peer, school, and community levels.

Additional references: Look for more articles about dating violence, substance use, and risky sexual behaviors in NCFY’s research library.

For more information about preventing sexual risk behaviors in adolescents, use this Toolkit to Incorporate Adolescent Relationship Abuse Prevention Into Existing Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Programming, and learn how a Family and Youth Services Bureau grantee is taking a holistic approach to adolescent sexual health

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