Adolescents' recall of sexual behavior: consistency of self-report and effect of variations in recall duration

J Adolesc Health. 1999 Sep;25(3):199-206. doi: 10.1016/s1054-139x(98)00156-6.


Purpose: To describe the relationship between adolescents' 2-week, 2-month, and 12-month recall of sexual behavior; to assess the variability of adolescents' self-reported sexual behaviors over a period of 1 year; and to draw conclusions regarding the use of recall periods in measuring self-reported sexual behavior in adolescents.

Methods: Data from 296 African-American adolescents (age 12-19 years; 28% male) were analyzed. Baseline data comprise 2-week, 2-month, and 12-month recall of number of partners and frequency of condom-protected and unprotected vaginal, oral, and anal sex. Self-reported frequency of refusal of unprotected sex during the 2-week and 2-month recall periods are also included. To assess variability in self-reports of number of partners and frequency of behaviors over time, repeated measures of 2-week and 2-month recall were collected from a subset of the sample (n = 129; 24% male).

Results: The strength of correlation among responses from the three recall periods was dependent upon (a) the difference in length of the recall periods, and (b) the nature of the construct being recalled (e.g., number of partners vs. number of behaviors). Longitudinally, the variability of 2-week recall responses was generally larger than the variability in 2-month recall responses.

Conclusions: Consistent estimates of adolescents' sexual behavior over a 1-year period may be obtained from several assessments of 2-week recall, or from relatively fewer assessments of 2-month recall data.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior / psychology*
  • Child
  • Data Collection / standards
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Recall*
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Sexual Behavior / psychology*