Initiation of Sexual Activity Among Female Adolescents


sexual activity, sex, teenage relationships


According to the 1982 National Survey of Family Growth, 46% women aged 15-19 had experienced premarital intercourse. Projections based on this study show that by their 20th birthdays, 70% of all women in the US will have experienced premarital intercourse. This article examines the effects of various factors on the likelihood that teenagers will become sexually active. Data for this study were taken from the National Survey of Family Growth, Cycle III. Fieldwork was done in 1982 and included interviews of 7969 women aged 15-44. Data include background characteristics, measures of fertility and contraception, measures of fecundity and birth expectations, use of family planning services, and the respondent's marital history. The study concludes that family stability (intact families), Hispanic ethnicity, high parental education, religious affiliation, regular church attendance, and reproductive education decrease the occurrence of 1st intercourse. Other factors characterize an environment that is unstable and unstructured and has a liberalizing influence upon 1st intercourse. Teens from broken homes, blacks, and the lower social classes are more likely to initiate intercourse. Geographic factors have a very small influence upon the initiation of sexual activity among teens. Similar patterns of influence appear regarding contraceptive use. The same factors that encourage stability, such as high father's education, Catholic or Jewish religious affiliation, religious attendance, and reproductive instruction shift the odds in favor of contracepted rather than noncontracepted sex. Family instability and low social class increase the risk that 1st intercourse will not be contracepted. Providing too much sex education, such as instruction on birth control, may actually contribute to the leniency of the environment, although the authors find no evidence that school-based birth control instruction increases the chances that contraceptives will be used. Environments that are too restrictive increase the chance that 1st intercourse will be noncontracepted. In sum, adolescents need an environment balanced between the liberal and conservative extremes to reduce the rate of 1st intercourse and to increase the use of contraception at intercourse.

Original Publication Citation

Forste, Renata and Tim B. Heaton. 1988. “Initiation of Sexual Activity AmongFemale Adolescents.” Youth and Society19(3):250-268

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

Publication Date



Youth & Society




Family, Home, and Social Sciences



University Standing at Time of Publication

Full Professor