, Volume 4, Issue 2, pp 125-134

The Relationship Between Sexual Abuse and Sexual Risk Among High School Students: Findings from the 1997 Massachusetts Youth Risk Behavior Survey

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Abstract

Objective: To assess whether adolescents with a history of sexual abuse were more likely than those with no such history to engage in sexual risk behaviors. Methods: Data for this study were obtained through the 1997 Massachusetts Youth Risk Behavior Survey, a self-report questionnaire administered to a representative sample of 9th through 12th graders (N = 4014) to assess a variety of adolescent risk behaviors. Only sexually experienced adolescents (n = 1610; female = 779, male = 831) were included in the present study. Logistic regression models were constructed to examine the relationship of sexual abuse history to sexual risk behaviors. Adolescents were considered as having a history of sexual abuse if they reported ever having had sexual contact against their will. Results: Almost one- third of sexually experienced adolescent girls (30.2%) and one-tenth (9.3%) of adolescent boys reported a history of sexual abuse. After controlling for related demographics and risk behaviors, sexually abused female students were significantly more likely than those without such a history to have had earlier first coitus (OR = 2.2, 95%CI = 1.46–3.47), to have had three or more sex partners ever (OR = 2.5, 95%CI = 1.71–3.68), and to have been pregnant (OR = 1.9, 95%CI = 1.21–2.92). Sexually abused male students were significantly more likely than those without such a history to have ever had multiple partners (OR = 3.2, 95%CI = 1.56–6.57), to have had multiple sex partners in the past 3 months (OR = 2.9, 95%CI = 1.71–3.68), and to have engaged in sex resulting in pregnancy (OR = 3.4,95%CI = 1.53–7.34). Conclusion: Both adolescent girls and boys with a history of sexual abuse report greater sexual risk-taking than those without such a history. However, although sexual abuse is more prevalent among girls than boys, the impact of sexual abuse on sexual risk appears to be even greater for boys. Programs addressing both sexual abuse and sexual risk must be made available to all adolescents.