Context: Preadolescent friendships and early teenage dating relationships have implications for adolescent sexual initiation that may differ by race and gender.
Methods: Data on participants in the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth and their children are used to profile friendship and dating patterns among a sample of youth born to relatively young mothers. Logistic regression analyses examine whether these patterns predict early sexual initiation, and whether there are differences associated with gender and race.
Results: As youth moved from late childhood to mid-adolescence, they shifted from having almost exclusively same-sex, same-grade friends to having more relationships with persons who are of the opposite sex and older. By ages 15-16,34% had had sexual intercourse; the proportion was significantly higher among blacks (45%) than among others (31%). Most adolescents reported neither frequent dating nor a steady partner by ages 15-16, although the prevalence of such reports was related to friendship patterns in late childhood. Twelve percent of youth who initiated sex in early adolescence did so outside of a dating relationship. For most subgroups examined, the odds of initiating intercourse during early adolescence were associated with going steady, but not with frequency of dating.
Conclusions: Prior social networking is an important element in predicting early sexual activity. Overall, youth whose mothers gave birth at young ages remain sexually inexperienced into middle adolescence, but certain subgroups are more likely than others to initiate early sexual activity.