Transitions in body and behavior: a meta-analytic study on the relationship between pubertal development and adolescent sexual behavior

J Adolesc Health. 2015 Jun;56(6):586-98. doi: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2014.11.019. Epub 2015 Jan 27.


The present meta-analysis studies the relations of pubertal timing and status with sexual behavior and sexual risk behavior among youth aged 10.5-22.4 years. We included biological sex, age, and ethnicity as potential moderators. Four databases were searched for studies (published between 1980 and 2012) on the relation between pubertal timing or status and sexual behavior. The outcomes were (1) sexual intercourse; (2) combined sexual behavior; and (3) risky sexual behavior. Earlier pubertal timing or more advanced pubertal status was related to earlier and more sexual behavior, and earlier pubertal timing was related to more risky sexual behavior. Further, the links between (1) pubertal status and combined sexual behavior and (2) pubertal timing and sexual intercourse status, combined sexual behavior, and risky sexual behavior were stronger for girls than boys. Most links between pubertal status, timing, and sexual behavior and sexual risk behavior were stronger for younger adolescents. Moderation by ethnicity did not yield consistent results. There was significant variation in results among studies that was not fully explained by differences in biological sex, age, and ethnicity. Future research is needed to identify moderators that explain the variation in effects and to design sexual health interventions for young adolescents.

Keywords: Adolescent; Meta-analysis; Pubertal status; Pubertal timing; Sexual behavior; Sexual risk behavior.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior / ethnology
  • Adolescent Behavior / psychology*
  • Adult
  • Child
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Psychosexual Development*
  • Puberty / physiology*
  • Sexual Behavior / psychology*
  • Young Adult