Is sexual behavior healthy for adolescents? A conceptual framework for research on adolescent sexual behavior and physical, mental, and social health

New Dir Child Adolesc Dev. 2014 Summer;2014(144):3-19. doi: 10.1002/cad.20057.


Although research has increasingly emphasized how adolescent sexual behavior may be associated with aspects of health beyond unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, no current theoretical or conceptual model fully explains associations between sexual behavior and multiple facets of health. We provide a conceptual model that explicates possible processes of how adolescent sexual behavior may influence physical, mental, and social health. Next, we review the current literature consistent with this conceptual model, demonstrating that although early sexual behavior can be associated with some negative outcomes, sex may be, on average, a positive experience in late adolescence. Finally, we discuss important future directions for research in these areas, including how individuals' attitudes about and perceptions of sexual behavior influence outcomes of sex.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior / psychology*
  • Health Behavior*
  • Humans
  • Sexual Behavior / psychology*