Graduate Thesis Or Dissertation

Sexual identity and familial factors discriminating sexual behaviors in adolescents

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  • Identifying factors related to adolescent sexual activity is an important issue for health care, education, and public policy. This research explores the idea that sexual identity relates to adolescent sexual activity and the riskiness of the behavior. Sexual identity is composed of many factors, including self-esteem, sexual self-efficacy, body image, and social isolation. As well, the development of sexual identity is related to age and familial relations. From a symbolic interaction perspective, the formation of sexual identity occurs through the creation of highly subjective symbols or meanings assigned to sexuality. Riskier sexual behaviors seem to occur predominantly in adolescence, and understanding the meanings associated with sexual identity may help to explain why. It was hypothesized that adolescent sexual identity would be related to whether or not adolescents had participated in sexual activity and if they had, whether such activity was safer or riskier. The data, collected from 2,373 7th through 12th graders, were part of a community-based program in a rural northwest community. Participants were divided into three groups based upon their sexual activity status of abstaining behavior, safer behavior, or riskier behavior. Group membership was determined utilizing measures of birth control use, sexually transmitted disease history, and pregnancy experience. Discriminating variables included self-esteem, sexual self-efficacy, body image, social isolation, parental monitoring, and age. Analysis revealed significant sex differences on all six discriminating variables. Stepwise discriminant function analysis found age, parental monitoring, and sexual self-efficacy to be significant contributors to the model for both sexes. The discriminant function classification, utilizing all six variables, correctly classified 93% of both females and males, illuminating the significance of sexual identity in discriminating among the groups. Older adolescents with an increased sense of sexual identity and parents who monitor their behavior, may be more inclined to participate in safer sexual behaviors. The development of sexual identity is a culmination of cognitive, affective, and behavioral processes that together help the individual see her/himself as a sexual person. The research presented here provides insight into the sexual identity of adolescents. Such knowledge may be beneficial in designing sexuality education programs designed to facilitate positive, well-developed sexual identity.
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