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Non-Romantic Sexual Relationships by Family Structure and Religious Practice

Wave 1 of the National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent Health (Add Health)[1]  found that adolescents aged 13 to 19 in intact families that worshipped weekly or more were least likely to have had a non-romantic sexual relationship.[2]

Family Structure: Fewer teens in intact married families ever had a non-romantic sexual partner than those in other family types (20.9 percent versus 30.7 percent, respectively). At the time of the survey, 20.9 percent of 13- to 19-year olds in intact married families had engaged in non-romantic sexual intercourse, versus 29.2 percent of teens in married stepfamilies, 34.3 percent of teens in intact cohabiting families, 25.7 percent of teens in cohabiting stepfamilies, 29.9 percent of teens in single divorced families, and 31.9 percent of teens in always-single families.   

Religious Practice: The likelihood that an adolescent had a non-romantic sexual relationship decreased as the adolescent’s religious involvement increased. Teens who attended religious services weekly or more within the past year were less likely to have had non-romantic sexual intercourse (21.5 percent) than those who attended monthly but not weekly (22.5 percent), less than monthly (27.5 percent), or never (28.0 percent).

Family Structure and Religious Practice Combined: Thirteen to nineteen-year-olds in intact worshipping families were least likely to have ever had a non-romantic sexual relationship (18.8 percent). Teens in intact non-worshipping families (23.6 percent) and non-intact worshipping families (28.4 percent) were more likely to have ever had non-romantic sexual intercourse. Teens in non-intact families that did not worship were most likely to have had non-romantic sexual relationships (35.2 percent).

Related Insights from Other Studies: Research suggests that non-romantic sexual relationships or ‘hook-ups’ “may present greater risks for teens regarding unplanned pregnancy and exposure to sexually transmitted infections … [and] may be a potential springboard for longer-term problems associated with relationship patterns that lack commitment.”[3] Wendy Manning and colleagues also found that “teen’s normative beliefs have significant effects on teenage non-romantic sexual activity.”[4] An adolescent’s family structure impacts the stability and durability of the adolescent’s romantic relationships.[5] Heidi Lyons et al. concluded that teens raised by single parents or stepparents were more likely to partake in casual sexual relationships, and were more likely to continue this behavior into adulthood.[6] Examining retrospective data for 10,847 U.S. women, Robert Quinlan found that divorce/separation between birth and age 5 predicted early first sexual intercourse and first pregnancy, and shorter duration of first marriage.[7] Teens from non-intact families were more likely to have sexual intercourse earlier and more frequently than teens in intact families.[8]

 

[1] The National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent Health (Add Health) is a congressionally-mandated longitudinal survey of American adolescents. Add Health drew a random sample of adolescents aged 13-19 in 1995 from junior high and high schools (Wave I) and has followed them in successive waves in 2001 (Wave III) and 2009 (Wave IV).

[2] Respondents were asked: “Not counting romantic relationships, have you ever had a sexual relationship with anyone?”

[3] Wendy D. Manning, Monica A. Longmore, and Peggy C. Giordano, “Adolescents’ involvement in non-romantic sexual activity,” Social Science Research 34 (2005): 385.

[4] Wendy D. Manning, Monica A. Longmore, and Peggy C. Giordano, “Adolescents’ involvement in non-romantic sexual activity,” Social Science Research 34 (2005): 385.

[5]  Shannon Cavanagh, “Family Structure History and Adolescent Romance,” Journal of Marriage and Family 70 (2008): 698-714.

[6] Heidi Lyons, Wendy Manning, Peggy Giordano, and Monica Longmore, “Predictors of Heterosexual Casual Sex Among Young Adults,”National Institute of Heath 42(2013) available at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3888028/pdf/nihms498099.pdf.

[7] Robert J. Quinlin, “Father Absence, Parental Care, and Female Reproductive Development, “Evolution and Human Behavior 24 (2003): 376-390.

[8] Samuel W. Sturgeon, “The Relationship Between Family Structure and Adolescent Sexual Activity,” (November 2008) available athttp://www.familyfacts.org/featuredfinding/ff_01.pdf.