Adolescent Sexuality and Positive Well-Being: A Group-Norms Approach
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.
KeywordsAdolescent 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.
- Abma, J. C., Martinez, G. M., & Copen, C. E. (2010). Teenagers in the United States: Sexual activity, contraceptive use, and childbearing, National Survey of Family Growth 2006–2008. National Center for Health Statistics. Vital and Health Statistics, Series, 23(30). Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/series/sr_23/sr23_030.pdf.
- Bornstein, M. H., Davidson, L., Keyes, C. L. M., & Moore, K. A. (Eds.). (2003). Well-being: Positive development across the lifespan. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
- Brooks-Gunn, J., & Petersen, A. C. (Eds.). (1983). Girls at puberty: Biological and psychosocial perspectives. New York, NY: Plenum.Google Scholar
- Casullo, M. M., & Solano, A. C. (2001). El significado del bienestar psicológico en estudiantes adolescentes. Revista Iberoamericana de Diagnóstico y Evaluación Psicológica, 12(2), 57–70.Google Scholar
- Connolly, J. A., & McIsaac, C. (2009). Romantic relationships in adolescence. In R. M. Lerner & L. Steinberg (Eds.), Handbook of adolescent psychology, Vol. 2: Contextual influences on adolescent development (3rd ed., pp. 104–151). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.Google Scholar
- Diamond, L. M., & Savin-Williams, R. C. (2009). Adolescent sexuality. In R. M. Lerner & L. Steinberg (Eds.), Handbook of adolescent psychology, Vol. 1: Individual bases of adolescent development (3rd ed., pp. 479–523). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.Google Scholar
- Hollingshead, A. B. (1958). Two-factor index of social position. New Haven, CT: Yale University.Google Scholar
- Leary, M. R., & Baumeister, R. F. (2000). The nature and function of self-esteem: Sociometer theory. In M. P. Zanna (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 32, pp. 1–62). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.Google Scholar
- Mosher, W. D., Chandra, A., & Jones, J. (2005). Sexual behavior and selected health measures: Men and women 15–44 years of age, United States, 2002. Advance data: Vital and Health Statistics, Number 362. CDC. http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/ad/ad362.pdf.
- Newcomb, M. D. (1996). Pseudomaturity among adolescents: Construct validation, sex differences, and associations in adulthood. Journal of Drug Issues, 26, 477–504.Google Scholar
- Reyna, V. F., & Farley, F. (2006). Risk and rationality in adolescent decision making: Implications for theory, practice and public policy. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 7, 1–44.Google Scholar
- Savin-Williams, R. C. (1998). “…And then I became gay”. Young men’s stories. New York, NY: Routledge.Google Scholar
- Settersen, R. A. (2003). Propositions and controversies in life-course scholarship. In R. A. Settersen Jr (Ed.), Invitation to the life course: Toward new understandings of later life (pp. 15–45). Amityville, NY: Baywood.Google Scholar
- Steinberg, L. (2007). A social neuroscience perspective on adolescent risk-taking. Developmental Review, 28, 76–106.Google Scholar
- Suldo, S. M., Huebner, E. S., Friedrich, A. A., & Gilman, R. (2009). Life satisfaction. In R. Gilman, E. S. Huebner, & M. J. Furlong (Eds.), Handbook of positive psychology in schools (pp. 27–35). New York, NY: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group.Google Scholar
- Whipple, B., Knowles, J., & Davis, J. (2003). The health benefits of sexual expression. White Paper. New York: Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Inc, and the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality (Updated 2007 by Gianotten, W. L., & Golub, D.).Google Scholar
- World Health Organization. (2002). Defining sexual health: Report of a technical consultation on sexual health 28–31 January 2002, Geneva. Sexual Health Document Series.Google Scholar