Journal of Developmental and Physical Disabilities

, Volume 17, Issue 2, pp 155-172

First online:

Sexual Experiences of Adolescents with Low Cognitive Abilities in the U.S

  • Mariah Mantsun ChengAffiliated withCarolina Population Center, The University of North CarolinaCarolina Population Center Email author 
  • , J. Richard UdryAffiliated withCarolina Population Center, The University of North Carolina

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This study explores differences in sexual behaviors between adolescents with low and with average cognitive abilities in the U.S. Using data from Wave I of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health), we identified 422 respondents who had low cognitive abilities. Logistic and multinomial logistic regression methods were used to compare their experiences of romantic attraction, coital sex, contraceptive use, STDs, and pregnancy with those of respondents who were mentally average. Results show that adolescents with low cognitive abilities had fewer experiences of romantic attraction and coital sex. Given romantic-attraction experience, these boys had higher odds for same-sex (vs. opposite-sex) attraction compared with average boys. Among non-virgins, mentally disadvantaged adolescents were less likely to use contraceptives and had higher risks of STDs and pregnancy. More attention is needed to guide and protect them in their sexual understanding and development.


adolescents low cognitive ability sexual behaviors birth control