The Impact of Sociosexualization and Sexual Identity Development on the Sexual Well-Being of Youth Formerly in the Foster Care System

J Adolesc Health. 2020 Apr;66(4):439-446. doi: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2019.10.025. Epub 2020 Jan 19.


Purpose: Youth in the child welfare system experience disproportionate rates of negative sexual health outcomes as well as increased engagement in risky sexual behaviors. This study explored the impact of sociosexualization and sexual identity development on the sexual well-being of youth formerly in the foster care system.

Methods: Two hundred and nineteen youth formerly in the foster care system completed an Internet-based survey, including measures of the level of sexuality-related topics discussion, relationship quality with the individual with whom the topics were discussed, adverse childhood experiences, severity of sexual abuse history, sexual identity development, and sexual well-being. Hierarchical regressions examined the impact of youths' sociosexualization experiences and four domains of sexual identity development on their sexual well-being.

Results: Sexual Identity Commitment was the strongest positive predictor of youths' sexual well-being (β = .428) followed by Sexual Identity Synthesis/Integration (β = .350) and Sexual Identity Exploration (β = .169). Sexual Orientation Identity Uncertainty negatively impacted sexual well-being (β = -.235), as did adverse childhood experiences (β range = -.150 to -.178) and sexual abuse severity (β range = -.208 to -.322). Sexuality-related discussions with foster parents negatively impacted youths' sexual well-being, whereas discussions with peers were a positive predictor.

Conclusion: Enhancing youths' sexual identity development and reducing the impact of traumatic experience are critical to improving sexual well-being. The influence of sexuality-related discussions on sexual well-being requires further analysis as impacts varied widely. Public policies should provide guidance to professionals on what services should be provided to enhance youths' sexual development.

Keywords: Adolescent; Child welfare; Foster care; Foster care alumni; Foster youth; Sexual health; Sexual identity; Sexual well-being; Young adult.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Child Welfare
  • Female
  • Foster Home Care*
  • Gender Identity*
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Sexual Behavior / psychology*
  • Sexual Development
  • Sexual Health*