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The Influence of Parent and Parent–Adolescent Relationship Characteristics on Sexual Trajectories into Adulthood

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To examine sexual partner acquisition into young adulthood and to explore what characteristics of the adolescent family context might predict this change, we used growth curve modeling to examine data from a nationally representative sample of adolescents followed longitudinally over 13 years through young adulthood (N = 5385). Growth curve modeling allowed us to treat the outcome as a dynamic variable and to examine 10 potential predictors of change while accounting for the nested nature of the data. Six family characteristics emerged as predictors of mean number of partners and rate of partner acquisition, while accounting for three significant adolescent predictors. Living in a single-parent or blended family and general communication about sex predicted higher lifetime number of sexual partners in young adulthood. Parent religiosity, parent disapproval of adolescent engagement in sex, and parent–adolescent connectedness were predictive of lower lifetime number of sexual partners. By following participants into their late twenties and early thirties, we were able to detect changes in the impact of early family factors that are not apparent in studies restricted to adolescents and emerging adults. For example, parent education, parent disapproval, and parent–adolescent connectedness were associated with higher rates of partner acquisition at age 23, but faster deceleration in partner acquisition as time progressed. Communication about negative consequences of sex was not predictive, regardless of whether it was “on time” (before sexual intercourse) or not. These results reveal that parents have significant, and sometimes unexpected, influence on their children’s sexual behavior that persists well into adulthood.

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This research used data from Add Health, a program project directed by Kathleen Mullan Harris and designed by J. Richard Udry, Peter S. Bearman, and Kathleen Mullan Harris at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and funded by Grant P01-HD31921 from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, with cooperative funding from 23 other federal agencies and foundations. Special acknowledgment is due Ronald R. Rindfuss and Barbara Entwisle for assistance in the original design. Information on how to obtain the Add Health data files is available on the Add Health Web site ( No direct support was received from Grant P01-HD31921 for this analysis.

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Correspondence to Christine E. Kaestle.

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Cheshire, E., Kaestle, C.E. & Miyazaki, Y. The Influence of Parent and Parent–Adolescent Relationship Characteristics on Sexual Trajectories into Adulthood. Arch Sex Behav 48, 893–910 (2019).

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