Sound Public Policy for Stronger Michigan Families
are planning to do so.
While the re-lationship between self-esteem and sexualactivity differs from adolescent males toadolescent females, low self-esteem anddepressive symptoms are connected withincreased sexual risk-taking in both gen-ders.
Although self-esteem levels varyamong sexually active adolescents basedon their level of experience or protection,students who planned to abstain fromsexual activity reported higher levels of self-esteem than did their actualizing oranticipating counterparts.
Correlating Destructive Behaviors
There are attempts to explain thesexual activity of some
teenagers as a sortof “self-medication,” in which these stu-dents respond to a negative backgroundby engaging in sexual activity.
This ex-planation is partially correct. Negativeoutside influences (low income, lack of parental monitoring, difficulty in school,destructive peer relationships) often leadto the adolescent’s increased emotionalvulnerability, which normally results in in-creasingly destructive behaviors.
Teensexuality is associated both with negativesocio-demographic factors and with lowexpectations of future success.
Sexualactivity is not a healthy part of theadolescent’s growth process; instead, itis often a warning sign for behaviors suchas depression and drug and alcohol use.Where early sexual activity is “self-medi-cation” for other problems, that sexualactivity is usually more destructive thanthe problems it attempts to remedy be-cause of the multiple negative associa-tions accompanying it.Unlike the relation-ship between emotionalhealth and adolescentsexual activity, where onefactor often precedes theother, multiple studiesshow that adolescentsexual activity and alco-hol and drug use oftenco-occur.
Although re-searchers have had diffi-culty determining the ex-act nature of the causal relationship be-tween these behaviors, involvement inany one of these activities greatly in-creases the risk of involvement in an-other.
Results from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) indicate that83 percent of students reporting no sub-stance use also report abstaining fromsexual activity.
Conversely, 80 percentof cigarette users reported being sexu-ally experienced.
What is more, of those students who are sexually active,23.3 percent (nearly one in four) reportedthat they had combined sexual activitywith drug or alcohol use.
The Michi-gan YRBS reports similar findings. In2005, 22.3 percent of Michigan studentswho were sexually activereported simultaneousdrug or alcohol use.
Moreover, a studypublished in
found that non-virginalboys aged 12-16 were“four times more likely tosmoke and six times morelikely to have ever used alcohol than boyswho considered themselves virgins.”
The risks were similar for sexually ex-perienced girls in the same age group.
Non-virginal girls, as compared totheir virginal counterparts, wereseven times more likely to smokeand ten times more likely to usemarijuana.
The interrelatedness of drug and alcohol use and adolescentsexual activity is destructive and self-propagating, often leading to “an in-creased likelihood of sexual risk behav-iors with progressively more severe sub-stance use.”
This destructive associa-tion is heightened the earlier an individualinitiates these behaviors.
For this rea-son alone, adolescents should be encour-aged to abstain from sexual activity.
Research points to a strong negativerelationship between premarital sexualactivity and long-term economic well-be-ing and health status.
One study foundthat men who had abstained from sexualactivity during adolescence had a greaterlikelihood of being financially independent,of having a positive financial net worth,and of attaining nearly an additional yearof education.
Similar results were foundfor women: those who had maintainedtheir virginity throughout adolescence had“a significant advantage in financial networth at 40, and a very strong likelihoodof staying off welfare.”
In light of this,interventions “effective in helping . . . at-risk teens avoid early sexual involvementmay also help them escape the cycle of poverty.”
A considerable difference in emo-tional stability for women lasts into adult-hood. Even after controlling for the pos-sibility of adolescent pregnancy, non-vir-gins were almost twice as likely to expe-rience decreased emotional well-being.
Although it is difficult to determine cau-sality for outcomes that occur so late inlife, the evidence indicates that there is,in fact, a strong causal relationship be-tween adolescent sexual activity and low-ered mid-life outcomes.Studies also show evidence of a link between premarital sexual activity anddivorce.
If adolescent sexual activityaffects the emotional well-being of the
"Recent studies indicate that manyadolescents who initiate sexualactivity experience depression,suicidal ideation, and relationshipviolence...Other studies linkadolescent sexual activity withdecreased school performance,lowered self-esteem, and an increasein drug and alcohol usage.""...non-virginal boys aged 12-16 werefour times more likely to smoke andsix times more likely to have ever usedalcohol than boys who consideredthemselves virgins."