The Journal of Primary Prevention

, Volume 35, Issue 4, pp 239–254 | Cite as

Preventing Adolescent Pregnancy: Biological, Social, Cultural, and Political Influences on Age at First Sexual Intercourse

  • Raquel Pires
  • Anabela Araújo-Pedrosa
  • Joana Pereira
  • Maria Cristina Canavarro
Original Paper


Age at first sexual intercourse (AFSI) is the initial factor related to adolescents’ sexual life that may increase the risk of adolescent pregnancy. We explored the biological, social, cultural, and political predictors of AFSI addressing several gaps that prevent us from generalizing the results of past research to adolescent pregnancy prevention. We also explored the moderating effects of cultural variables on the links between social and political predictors and AFSI. Our sample consisted of 889 Portuguese female adolescents aged 12–19. Earlier age at menarche, non-intact family structure, maternal history of adolescent pregnancy, lower maternal emotional warmth, absence of religious involvement, and living in Portugal’s mainland and in a legal context penalizing abortion predicted earlier AFSI. School attendance predicted earlier AFSI among adolescents of European ethnic origin; adolescents of non-European ethnic origin presented the opposite, but non-significant, pattern. These findings suggest that, in addition to isolated characteristics, factors from different ecological contexts should be considered when planning interventions designed to foster healthy and informed transitions to sexual initiation and prevent the related risks of unwanted outcomes. We discuss implications for future research and practice.


Adolescent pregnancy Age at first sexual intercourse Ecological contexts Prevention Risk identification 



This study is part of the “Adolescent pregnancy in Portugal: Etiology, reproductive decision, and adjustment” research project, integrated in the Relationships, Development & Health Research Group of the R&D Unit Institute of Cognitive Psychology, Vocational and Social Development of the University of Coimbra (PEst-OE/PSI/UI0192/2011). Raquel Pires, Anabela Araújo-Pedrosa, and Joana Pereira were supported by PhD Scholarships from the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT-SFRH/BD/63949/2009, SFRH/BD/3168/2000, and SFRH/BD/89435/2012, respectively). These PhD Scholarships were co-financed by the European Social Fund. The authors wish to thank all the adolescents who collaborated with this research project, the health and educational services that enabled the sample collection, the Portuguese Family Planning Association, the Regional Government of the Azores Islands, and the Sexual, Maternal and Child Health Division of the Portuguese Directorate-General of Health.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Raquel Pires
    • 1
    • 2
  • Anabela Araújo-Pedrosa
    • 1
    • 2
  • Joana Pereira
    • 1
    • 2
  • Maria Cristina Canavarro
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Faculty of Psychology and Educational SciencesUniversity of CoimbraCoimbraPortugal
  2. 2.Psychological Intervention Unit of the Maternity Doctor Daniel de MatosCentro Hospitalar e Universitário de Coimbra, EPECoimbraPortugal

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