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The Harmful Consequences of Teen Sex

The Harmful Consequences of Teen Sex

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A MICHIGAN FAMILY FORUM Publication

The Harmful Consequences of Teen Sex: There's More than Pregnancy and STD's
by Quinn Harr
A MICHIGAN FAMILY FORUM Publication

The Harmful Consequences of Teen Sex: There's More than Pregnancy and STD's
by Quinn Harr

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Published by: Michigan Family Forum on Oct 17, 2012
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P
OLICY
B
RIEF
 A M
ICHIGAN
F
 AMILY 
F
ORUM
ESOURCE
PO Box 15216, Lansing, MI 48901 www.michiganfamily.org
 Is Teen Sex A Problem?
Although sexual activity among teen-agers has decreased in recent years, itcontinues to be a widespread problem. In2005, 42.2 percent of Michigan studentsreported having engaged in sexual inter-course, and 27.9 percent of these studentsreported having four or more partners.
1
In the same study, 33.8 percent of Michi-gan 9
th
graders also reported having en-gaged in sexual intercourse.
2
Adolescent sexual activity warrantswidespread attention because its physi-cal, emotional, and financial costs arelargely preventable. Recent studies indi-cate that many adolescents who initiatesexual activity experience depression,suicidal ideation, and relationship violenceand that these actions and attitudes in turnlead to riskier sexual behavior.
3
Otherstudies link adolescent sexual activity withdecreased school performance, loweredself-esteem, and an increase in drug andalcohol usage.
4
Summary:
Research shows that early sexual activity is not
 
an event isolated from the rest of an adolescent’s life. Instead, it is often linked to negative behaviors, such as relationship vio-lence, depression, substance and alcohol abuse, suicidal ideation, and an increase in other riskysexual behaviors. While contraceptive usage may help prevent unwanted pregnancies anddeter the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, it can never address the other serious corre-lates of premature sexual activity.A recent study found that studentswho engaged in sexual intercourse weremore than twice as likely as those whoabstained from sexual activity to sufferfrom partner violence. Moreover, thestudy found that where partner violenceoccurred, in more than 75 percent of thecases it was preceded by sexual activ-ity, so that
“engaging in sexual inter-course appears to dramatically in-crease the risk of partner violence... rather than the reverse.”
5
In addition to increased partner vio-lence, “sexually active adolescents re-ported high rates of self-harm.”
6
Sexu-ally experienced students were morethan twice as likely to be at risk for bothsuicidal behavior
7
and severe depres-sion.
8
The odds increased dramaticallywhen sexual activity was combined withalcohol or drug use, a common phenom-enon among adolescents.
9
While affecting an individual’s men-tal well-being, adolescent sexual activityis also closely tied to an individual’s schoolperformance and self-esteem. Studentswho perform well academically and havecollege aspirations are more likely to de-lay sexual activity.
10
By contrast, a lowGPA is associated with both an earlieronset of sexual intercourse
11
and in-creased sexual risk taking.
12
The relation-ship between adolescent sexual activityand decreased school performance is self-perpetuating, where low academic expec-tations and performance increase the like-lihood of being sexually active,
13
whichin turn further decreases school perfor-mance.
14
Furthermore, early sexual involve-ment, whether actualized or anticipated,has a negative impact on an individual’sself-esteem. Students who plan to abstainfrom sexual activity report higher levelsof self-esteem than both those who haveengaged in sexual activity and those who
The Harmful Consequences of Teen Sex:There's More than Pregnancy and STD's
by Quinn HarrQuinn Harr is a research assistant at Michigan Family Forum
 
Sound Public Policy for Stronger Michigan Families
P
OLICY 
B
RIEF
are planning to do so.
15
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.
16
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.
17
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.
18
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.
19
Teensexuality is associated both with negativesocio-demographic factors and with lowexpectations of future success.
20
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.
21
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.
22
Results from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) indicate that83 percent of students reporting no sub-stance use also report abstaining fromsexual activity.
23
Conversely, 80 percentof cigarette users reported being sexu-ally experienced.
24
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.
25
The Michi-gan YRBS reports similar findings. In2005, 22.3 percent of Michigan studentswho were sexually activereported simultaneousdrug or alcohol use.
26
Moreover, a studypublished in
Pediatrics
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.”
27
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.
28
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.”
29
This destructive associa-tion is heightened the earlier an individualinitiates these behaviors.
30
For this rea-son alone, adolescents should be encour-aged to abstain from sexual activity.
 Lasting Consequences
Research points to a strong negativerelationship between premarital sexualactivity and long-term economic well-be-ing and health status.
31
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.
32
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.”
33
In light of this,interventions “effective in helping . . . at-risk teens avoid early sexual involvementmay also help them escape the cycle of poverty.”
34
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.
35
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.
36
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."
 
P
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B
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Sound Public Policy for Stronger Michigan Families
individual, it also hinders the ability of the individual to form healthy and stablerelationships later in life. The divorce ratefor individuals who were sexually activeas adolescents is nearly twice as great asthe rate for adolescents who abstainedfrom sexual activity.
37
Some suggest that this finding indi-cates an untraditional view of sexualityand marriage, whereby individuals “whohave premarital sex are more likely to haveextramarital sex.”
38
However, other stud-ies find that engaging in untraditional be-haviors has the effect of altering anindividual’s view of those behaviors sothat “the dominant effect of entry into afirst cohabitation [is an] increased toler-ance for divorce.”
39
The experience of premarital sex and cohabitation detractsfrom marital stability.
40
 Healthy Lifestyles
Contrary to popular belief, wide-spread sexual activity among adolescentsdoes not necessarily reflect permissivebeliefs about sexual behavior. Althoughnearly 50 percent of adolescents reportbeing sexually experienced,
41
nearly 80percent think that adolescents should ab-stain from sexual activity.
42
Moreover,almost two-thirds of sexually experiencedteens (63 percent) wished they had waitedto have sex.
43
Without doubt, some adolescents en-gage in sexual activity because of theuntraditional views they hold on the mat-ter. However, it is equally undeniable thatpast sexual activity by adolescents, eventhose holding traditional views on the mat-ter, alters their view of sexual responsi-bility later in life. While older sexually ex-perienced adolescents are more likely toconsider casual sex acceptable and toreport a higher number of recent sexualpartners,
44
younger adolescents think thatwhen sexual activity doesoccur, it should only hap-pen within the context of a long-term, committedrelationship.
45
Research demon-strates that the age “atfirst intercourse has a strong associationwith the number of sexual partners a per-son has over a lifetime.”
46
While 74 per-cent of those sexually active by age 14had six or more partners, among thosewho waited until 17 to have intercourse,only 10 percent had six partners.
47
Thelonger teens delay their sexual debut, theless likely they are to engage in sexualrisk behaviors such as multiple partners.Early age “at first intercourse is a risk marker for sexual risk behavior . . . longafter sexual initiation.”
48
Quite simply, for adolescents,postponing intercourse minimizestheir exposure to harm.
We must senda strong message to youth to avoid allrisky behaviors. Drug and alcohol use,depression, suicidal ideation, decreasedschool performance, relationship violenceand adolescent sexual activity are all in-terrelated. It is important that we edu-cate students about the correlates of sexual activity and encourage them toabstain from any behavior that has a sig-nificant, negative impact on their overallwell-being.While contraceptive usage may pre-vent some of the negative physical con-sequences of sexual activity, it fails to ad-dress the other important aspects of anadolescent’s life. Additional steps shouldbe taken to protect youths from engagingin harmful sexual behaviors. First, par-ents should be more active in transmit-ting their values regarding human sexu-ality to their children. Second, schoolboards should actively reach out to re-cruit more parents to be involved in theprocess of determining a district's sexeducation curriculum by serving on thedistrict's sex education advisory board.Third, we should seek to increase stateand federal funding of abstinence pro-grams. Finally, more studies should beconducted to further determine the ef-fects of early sexual activity on adoles-cent emotional and relational well-being.These measures will ensure that we aredoing our best to protect adolescents fromharm and to promote their social, emo-tional, and physical health.
"Research demonstrates that the ageat first intercourse has a strongassociation with the number of sexualpartners a person has over a lifetime.”

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