Journal of Youth and Adolescence

, Volume 40, Issue 8, pp 931–944 | Cite as

Adolescent Sexuality and Positive Well-Being: A Group-Norms Approach

  • Zhana VrangalovaEmail author
  • Ritch C. Savin-Williams
Empirical Research


The link between adolescent sexual activity and psychological well-being is a controversial issue in developmental psychology. This cross-sectional study investigated the association between three aspects of teenage sexuality (genital sexual experience, age of sexual onset, and number of sex partners) and positive well-being (hedonic, eudaimonic, and overall) in a sample of 475 high school seniors (48% female; 89% White) from a single school district in a rural upstate New York community. Based on a group-norms perspective, we expected higher well-being in adolescents whose sexual behaviors followed group-normative patterns. As expected, sexually experienced and on-time (at age 16) students reported higher well-being than sexually inexperienced or late-onset (17 or older) students. Contrary to expectations, a high number of sex partners and an early sexual onset (15 or younger) were not related to lower well-being. Early-onset girls reported higher levels of well-being than normative-onset peers. Findings are discussed in relationship to theoretical perspectives and past empirical findings of teenage sexuality as a developmental asset versus risk.


Adolescent sexual behavior Eudaimonic well-being Hedonic well-being Multiple sexual partners High number of partners Age of sexual onset 



We are grateful to Dr. Andrew Smiler for his assistance in designing the study and data collection, to the upstate New York State school district and school staff who were extraordinarily cooperative, to Vickie Liang for help with data preparation, and for financial support provided by Federal Formula Funds Research No. 2007-08-077 to the second author. This research was supported in part by the Cornell University Agricultural Experiment Station federal formula funds, Project No. NYC-321416, received from the National Institutes for Food and Agriculture (NIFA,) U.S. Department of Agriculture. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Human Development, Martha Van Rensselaer Hall, College of Human EcologyCornell UniversityIthacaUSA

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