Deconstructing heterogeneity in adolescent sexual behaviour: a person-centered, developmental systems approach

  • Author / Creator
    Howard, Andrea Louise Dalton
  • This study examined heterogeneity in adolescents’ experimentation with partnered sexual behaviours. Participants were 88 high school students in Edmonton, Alberta (M age = 16.59, SD = .95). Students completed surveys online once per two months from December, 2008 through December, 2009. Surveys tracked students’ reports of seven sexual behaviours ranging in intimacy from holding hands to intercourse. Growth mixture models were used to sort students’ trajectories of sexual behaviours across months into latent classes based on similar profiles. The best-fitting model revealed three distinct classes, labeled inexperienced, experimenting, and experienced. Students classified as inexperienced primarily reported only lower-intimacy, non-genital sexual behaviours across months, and many reported no sexual behaviours. Students classified as experimenting and experienced reported similar levels of higher-intimacy sexual behaviours across months. Most experimenting students’ behaviours appeared to increase gradually from less to more intimate, whereas experienced students appeared to make abrupt transitions between lower- and higher-intimacy behaviours, month-to-month. Demographic, personal, peer, and family variables provided additional information that increased distinction among classes, and explained residual within-class heterogeneity. The probability of being classified as inexperienced was highest for students who were younger, reported fewer sexually experienced friends, and lower parent behavioural control. Students who reported higher parent behavioural control had the highest probability of being classified as experimenting. Relations between trajectories of sexual behaviour intimacy and risk factors (e.g., later pubertal timing, fewer problem behaviours) and protective-enhancing resources (e.g., higher psychosocial maturity, more intimate friendships) varied across classes. This study shows that there are multiple pathways of experimentation with sexual behaviour in adolescence. Results are consistent both with studies that emphasize the potential for sex in adolescence to be high-risk, and with studies and arguments that emphasize the potential for sex in adolescence to play an important preparatory role toward healthy adult sexual functioning. Theoretical arguments and discussion are guided by a person-centered, developmental systems approach.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
  • DOI
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.
  • Language
  • Institution
    University of Alberta
  • Degree level
  • Department
    • Department of Psychology
  • Supervisor / co-supervisor and their department(s)
    • Galambos, Nancy (Psychology)
  • Examining committee members and their departments
    • Hoglund, Wendy (Psychology)
    • Bisanz, Jeffrey (Psychology)
    • Dixon, Roger (Psychology)