Background: In many developing countries, adolescents have become increasingly prone to engage in habitual risky sexual behavior such as early sexual initiation and unprotected sex. The objective of this study was to identify the operation of risk and protective factors in individual, family, peer, school, and community domains in predicting risky sexual behavior among male and female adolescents in Cambodia.
Methods: From October 2007 to January 2008, we collected data from 1,049 students aged 14 to 20 years. Risky sexual behavior was measured using a scale consisting of four items: sexual intercourse during the past three months, number of sex partners during the past three months, age at first experience of sexual intercourse, and use of condom in last sexual intercourse. The risk factors examined included substance use, depression, peer delinquency, family violence, and community violence. Studied protective factors included family support function, frequency of family dinner, and school attachment.
Results: Of the 1,049 students surveyed, 12.7% reported sexual intercourse during the past three months. Out of those sexually active students, 34.6% reported having two or more sex partners over the same period, and 52.6% did not use a condom during their last sexual intercourse. After controlling for other covariates, a higher likelihood of risky sexual behavior remained significantly associated among male participants with higher levels of substance use, higher levels of peer delinquency, and higher family income. In contrast, risky sexual behavior did not retain its associations with any of the measured protective factors among male participants. Among female participants, a higher likelihood of risky sexual behavior remained significantly associated with higher levels of substance use, higher levels of community-violence witnessing, and lower levels of family support.
Conclusions: The findings suggest the importance of considering gender-related differences in the effects of risk and protective factors when designing and implementing prevention programs. In interventions for both male and female adolescents, prevention of substance use and risky sexual behavior should be integrated. For boys, efforts should focus on the reduction of peer delinquency, while, for girls, improvement of family support should be emphasized.