Sexual risk behavior in young adulthood: broadening the scope beyond early sexual initiation

J Sex Res. 2014;51(7):721-30. doi: 10.1080/00224499.2013.849652. Epub 2014 Jan 14.


A robust link between early sexual initiation and sexual risk-taking behavior is reported in previous studies. The relationship may not be causal, however, as the effect of common risk factors is often not considered. The current study examined whether early initiation was a key predictor of risky sexual behavior in the 20s and 30s, over and above co-occurring individual and environmental factors. Data were drawn from the Seattle Social Development Project, a longitudinal panel of 808 youth. Early predictors (ages 10 to 15) and sexual risk taking (ages 21 to 24 and 30 to 33) were assessed prospectively. Early sexual initiation (before age 15) was entered into a series of probit regressions that also included family, neighborhood, peer, and individual risk factors. Although a positive bivariate relation between early sexual initiation and sexual risk taking was observed at both ages, the link did not persist when co-occurring risk factors were included. Behavioral disinhibition and antisocial peer influences emerged as the strongest predictors of sexual risk over and above early sexual initiation. These results suggest that early sexual initiation must be considered in the context of common antecedents; public health policy aimed at delaying sexual intercourse alone is unlikely to substantially reduce sexual risk behavior in young adulthood.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior / psychology*
  • Adult
  • Child
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Risk-Taking*
  • Sexual Behavior / psychology*
  • Time Factors
  • Young Adult