Predictors of high-risk behavior in unmarried American women: adolescent environment as risk factor

J Adolesc Health. 1994 Mar;15(2):126-32. doi: 10.1016/1054-139x(94)90539-8.


Background: Heterosexual intercourse with two or more partners in a short time period represents a high-risk behavior for acquisition and transmission of sexually transmitted pathogens (STDs). Identification of factors that may predict high-risk sexual behavior can help to focus primary prevention strategies on women at risk for future acquisition of infection.

Methods: We analyzed survey data obtained in 1988 from a nationally representative sample of 8,450 American women of reproductive age in order to identify such factors.

Results: Of all sexually experienced unmarried women, 6.6% reported having had two or more sexual partners in the preceding three months. Earlier age at first sexual intercourse was associated with multiple recent partners, and with lower reports of abstinence. Birth region in the West, lack of attendance at religious services as an adolescent, and having a mother who had her first child before she was 25 years of age were factors associated with multiple recent partners. Among unmarried white women having a mother who worked full time and not living with both parents during adolescence were associated with multiple recent partners; among unmarried black women, the inverse was true (p for racial difference < .05). Multivariate analysis showed western birth region and earlier age at first sexual intercourse to be significant predictors of having multiple recent sex partners.

Conclusions: Early environment and race influence later sexual behavior. These factors should be considered in targeting and planning education for STD prevention.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Data Collection
  • Environment*
  • Female
  • Health Planning
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Marital Status
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Primary Prevention
  • Psychology, Adolescent*
  • Racial Groups
  • Risk Factors
  • Risk-Taking*
  • Sex Education
  • Sexual Behavior*
  • Sexually Transmitted Diseases / epidemiology
  • Sexually Transmitted Diseases / prevention & control
  • Sexually Transmitted Diseases / transmission
  • Single Person / psychology*
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Women's Health*