Purpose: The purpose of this study is to document associations among problem behaviors in childhood and early adolescence and several health risk behaviors in middle adolescence, including a cumulative index of sexual intercourse risk.
Method: A nontreatment sample of 1167 10th and 11th grade students was recruited from three homogeneous suburban high schools in western New York. Intercourse activity and number of sexual partners were assessed four times at 6-month intervals over a 2-year period via self-report questionnaires administered in classroom settings.
Results: Sexual intercourse activity, once initiated, was found to be relatively persistent, rather than sporadic, for most adolescents. Repeated intercourse experience with multiple partners over the assessed time periods was associated with higher levels of externalizing childhood behavior problems, earlier onset of antisocial behaviors and substance use, and higher concurrent substance use. An avoidant, withdrawn behavioral style in childhood was associated with lower rates of sexual involvement in adolescence.
Conclusions: Temporal linkages among childhood precursors and adolescent sexual behaviors were identified as critical to understanding adolescent risk behaviors. These cross-time relationships may identify potential targets for future intervention/prevention efforts among high risk subsamples of children and adolescents.