Adolescent Sexual Behavior Patterns, Mental Health, and Early Life Adversities in a British Birth Cohort

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Abstract

This study tested adolescent sexual behavior patterns at age 14, their association with mental health at age 17 (psychological well-being, substance use, and self-harm attempts), and the influence of early life adversities upon this association. A British birth cohort (5,593 boys and 5,724 girls from the Millennium Cohort Study) was used. Latent class analysis suggested five subgroups of adolescent sexual behaviors: a “no sexual behavior” (50.74%), a “kisser” (39.92%), a “touching under clothes” (4.71%), a “genital touching” (2.64%), and an “all sexual activities” class (1.99%). Adolescents from the “kisser,” “touching under clothes,” “genital touching,” and “all sexual activities” classes reported significantly more substance use and self-harm attempts compared to adolescents from the “no sexual behavior” group. The associations became weaker after controlling for early life adversities (reducing around 4.38% to 37.35% for boys, and 9.29% to 52.56% for girls), and reduced to a smaller degree after further controlling for mental health variables at 14. The associations between sexual behaviors and psychological well-being became non-significant after controlling for early life adversities. Adolescents who have engaged in low-intensity sexual activities at early age may have poorer reported mental health, a pattern that is stronger for girls and early life adversity may partially explain this association.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages12
JournalJOURNAL OF SEX RESEARCH
Volume59
Issue number1
Early online date11 Aug 2021
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2022

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