Disentangling Adolescent Pathways of Sexual Risk Taking

  • Kathryn A. BrookmeyerEmail author
  • Christopher C. Henrich
Original Paper


Using data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, the authors aimed to describe the pathways of risk within sexual risk taking, alcohol use, and delinquency, and then identify how the trajectory of sexual risk is linked to alcohol use and delinquency. Risk trajectories were measured with adolescents aged 15–24 years (N = 1,778). Using Latent Class Growth Analyses (LCGA), models indicated that the majority of adolescents engaged in sexual risk and alcohol use. In joint trajectory analyses, LCGA revealed six risk taking classes: sex and alcohol, moderate risk taking, joint risk taking, moderate alcohol, alcohol risk, and alcohol and delinquency experimentation. Editors’ Strategic Implications: School administrators and curriculum designers should pay attention to the study’s findings with respect to the need for prevention programs to target early adolescents and integrate prevention messages about alcohol use and sexual risk taking.


Adolescence Risk taking Sexual risk Latent class growth analyses 



This work was supported by a National Research Service Award Predoctoral Fellowship to the first author by the National Institutes of Health for the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Prevention Research Branch, AIDS Research Program. The authors would like to thank Drs. Gabriel Kuperminc, Rose Sevcik, and Lisa Armistead for their support of this study and thoughtful feedback throughout its development. The findings and conclusions in this manuscript are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


  1. Allen, J. P., Leadbeater, B. J., & Aber, J. L. (1994). The development of problem behavior syndromes in at-risk adolescents. Development and Psychopathology, 6, 323–342.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Armistead, L., Kotchick, B. A., & Forehand, R. (2004). Teenage pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases & HIV/AIDS. In L. A. Rapp-Paglicci, C. N. Dulmus, & J. S. Wodarski (Eds.), Handbook of preventive interventions for children and adolescents (pp. 227–254). New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  3. Bryan, A., & Stallings, M. C. (2002). A case control study of adolescent risky sexual behavior and its relationship to personality definitions, conduct disorder, and substance use. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 31, 387–396.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2009). The NLSY79. Retrieved July 1, 2009 from
  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2005). HIV/AIDS surveillance report, 2004. Atlanta: US Department of Health and Human Services.Google Scholar
  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2008). Youth risk behavior surveillance—United States, 2007. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 57(SS-4), 1–131.Google Scholar
  7. Chassin, L., Pitts, S., & Prost, J. (2002). Binge drinking trajectories from adolescence to emerging adulthood in a high-risk sample: Predictors and substance abuse outcomes. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 70, 67–78.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. Cicchetti, D., & Toth, S. L. (1997). Transactional ecological systems in developmental psychopathology. In S. S. Luthar, J. A. Burack, D. Cicchetti, & J. R. Weisz (Eds.), Developmental psychopathology: Perspectives on adjustment, risk, and disorder (pp. 317–349). New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  9. Coley, R. L., & Chase-Lansdale, P. L. (1998). Adolescent pregnancy and parenthood: Recent evidence and future directions. American Psychologist, 53, 152–166.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. Crockett, L. J., Mouilanen, K. L., Raffaelli, M., & Randall, B. A. (2006). Psychological profiles and adolescent adjustment: A person-centered approach. Development and Psychopathology, 18, 195–214.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. Donovan, J. E., & Jessor, R. (1985). Structure of problem behavior in adolescence and young adulthood. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 53, 890–904.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. Duncan, S. C., Strycker, L. A., & Duncan, T. E. (1999). Exploring associations in developmental trends of adolescent substance use and risky sexual behavior in a high-risk population. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 22, 21–34.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. Ensminger, M. E. (1990). Sexual activity and problem behaviors among Black, urban adolescents. Child Development, 61, 2032–2046.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. French, D. C., & Dishion, D. J. (2003). Predictors of early initiation of sexual intercourse among high-risk adolescents. Journal of Early Adolescence, 23, 295–315.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Guilamo-Ramos, V., Litardo, H. A., & Jaccaard, J. (2005). Prevention programs for reducing adolescent problem behaviors: Implications of the co-occurrence of problem behaviors in adolescence. Journal of Adolescent Health, 36, 82–86.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. Guo, J., Chung, I., Hill, K. G., Hawkins, D., Catalano, R. F., & Abbott, R. D. (2002). Developmental relationships between adolescent substance use and risky sexual behavior in young adulthood. Journal of Adolescent Health, 31, 354–362.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. Hall, D. B. (2000). Zero-inflated Poisson and binomial regression with random effects: A case study. Biometrics, 56, 1030–1039.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. Hallfors, D. D., Iritani, B. J., Miller, W. C., & Bauer, D. J. (2007). Sexual and drug behavior patterns and HIV and STD racial disparities: The need for new directions. American Journal of Public Health, 97, 125–132.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. Hannon, L. (2003). Poverty, delinquency, and educational attainment: Cumulative disadvantage or disadvantage saturation? Sociological Inquiry, 73, 575–594.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Hawkins, J. D., Catalano, R. F., & Miller, J. Y. (1992). Risk and protective factors for alcohol and other drug problems in adolescence and early adulthood: Implications for substance abuse prevention. Psychological Bulletin, 112, 64–105.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  21. Hughes, T. L., Howard, M. J., & Henry, D. (2002). Nurses’ use of alcohol and other drugs: Findings from a national probability sample. Substance Use and Misuse, 37, 1423–1440.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  22. Jessor, R., & Jessor, S. L. (1977). Problem behavior and psychosocial development: A longitudinal study of youth. New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  23. Kazdin, A. E. (1997). Conduct disorder across the lifespan. In S. S. Luthar, J. A. Burack, D. Cicchetti, & J. R. Weisz (Eds.), Developmental psychopathology: Perspectives on adjustment, risk, and disorder (pp. 248–273). New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  24. Kotchick, B. A., Shaffer, A., Forehand, R., & Miller, K. S. (2001). Adolescent sexual risk behavior: A multi-system perspective. Clinical Psychology Review, 21, 493–519.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. Kuperminc, G. P., & Allen, J. P. (2001). Social orientation: Problem behavior and motivations toward interpersonal problem solving among high-risk adolescents. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 30, 597–622.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  26. Loeber, R., Farrington, D. P., Stouthamer-Loeber, M., & Van Kammen, W. B. (1998). Antisocial behavior and mental health problems: Explanatory factors in childhood and adolescence. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  27. Luthar, S. S., Cicchetti, D., & Becker, B. (2000). The construct of resilience: A critical evaluation and guidelines for future work. Child Development, 71, 543–562.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  28. Malow, R. M., Devieux, J. G., Jennings, T., Lucenko, B. A., & Kalichman, S. C. (2001). Substance-abusing adolescents at varying levels of HIV risk: Psychosocial characteristics, drug use, and sexual behavior. Journal of Substance Abuse, 13, 103–117.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  29. Muthén, B. (2000). Latent variable mixture modeling. In G. A. Marcoulides & R. E. Schumacker (Eds.), Advanced structural equation modeling: New developments and techniques (pp. 1–33). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  30. Muthén, B. O., & Muthén, L. K. (2000). The development of heavy drinking and alcohol-related problems from ages 18 to 37 in a U.S. national sample. Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 61, 290–300.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  31. Muthén, L. K., & Muthén, B. O. (2006). Mplus user’s guide. Los Angeles, CA: Muthén & Muthén.Google Scholar
  32. Nagin, D. S. (1999). Analyzing developmental trajectories: A semiparametric, group-based approach. Psychological Methods, 4, 139–157.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Nagin, D. S., & Land, K. (1993). Age, criminal careers, and population heterogeneity: Specification and estimation of a non-parametric, mixed Poisson model. Criminology, 31, 327–362.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Nagin, D., & Tremblay, R. (1999). Trajectories of boys’ physical aggression, opposition, and hyperactivity on the path to physically violent and nonviolent juvenile delinquency. Child Development, 70, 1181–1196.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  35. Nagin, D. S., & Tremblay, R. E. (2001). Analyzing developmental trajectories of distinct but related behaviors: A group-based method. Psychological Methods, 6, 18–34.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  36. Perrino, T., Gonzalez-Soldevilla, A., Pantin, H., & Szapocznik, J. (2000). The role of families in adolescent HIV prevention: A review. Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, 3, 81–96.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  37. Raffaelli, M., & Crockett, L. J. (2003). Sexual risk taking in adolescence: The role of self-regulation and attraction to risk. Developmental Psychology, 39, 1036–1046.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  38. Raftery, A. E. (1995). Bayesian model selection in social research. Sociological Methodology, 25, 111–164.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Savin-Williams, R., & Diamond, L. (2004). Sex. In R. Lerner & L. Steinberg (Eds.), Handbook of adolescent psychology (2nd ed., pp. 189–232). New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  40. Schwarz, G. (1978). Estimating the dimension of a model. Annals of Statistics, 6, 461–464.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Singer, J. D., & Willett, J. B. (2003). Applied longitudinal data analysis: Modeling change and event occurrence. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  42. Sroufe, L. A., & Rutter, M. (1984). The domain of developmental psychopathology. Child Development, 55, 17–29.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  43. Stueve, A., & O’Donnell, L. (2005). Early alcohol initiation and subsequent sexual and alcohol risk behaviors among urban youth. American Journal of Public Health, 95, 887–893.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  44. Talpert, S. F., Aarons, G. A., Sedlar, G. R., & Brown, S. A. (2001). Adolescent substance use and sexual risk-taking behavior. Journal of Adolescent Health, 28, 181–189.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Tolan, P., Gorman-Smith, D., & Henry, D. (2004). Supporting families in a high-risk setting: Proximal effects of the SAFEChildren preventive intervention. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 72, 855–869.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  46. United States Department of Health and Human Services. (2007). The surgeon general’s call to action to prevent and reduce underage drinking. Washington, DC: Office of the Surgeon General.Google Scholar
  47. White, H. R., Loeber, R., Stouthamer-Loeber, M., & Farrington, D. P. (1999). Developmental associations between substance use and violence. Development and Psychopathology, 11, 785–803.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  48. Widaman, K. F. (2006). Missing data: What to do with or without them. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 71(3), 42–64.Google Scholar
  49. Willoughby, T., Chalmers, H., & Busseri, M. A. (2004). Where is the syndrome? Examining co-occurrence among multiple problem behaviors in adolescence. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 6, 1022–1037.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Windle, M. (1990). A longitudinal study of antisocial behaviors in early adolescence as predictors of late adolescent substance use: Gender and ethnic group differences. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 99, 86–91.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  51. Windle, M. (2000). A latent growth curve model of delinquent activity among adolescents. Applied Developmental Science, 4, 193–207.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Yoshikawa, H. (1994). Prevention as cumulative protection: Effects of early family support and education on chronic delinquency and its risks. Psychological Bulletin, 115, 28–54.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kathryn A. Brookmeyer
    • 1
    Email author
  • Christopher C. Henrich
    • 2
  1. 1.Centers for Disease Control and PreventionAtlantaUSA
  2. 2.Georgia State UniversityAtlantaUSA

Personalised recommendations