ATTITUDE TOWARD SEXUAL INTERCOURSE AND RELATIONSHIP WITH PEER AND PARENTAL COMMUNICATION.
Article Type: Statistical Data Included
Subject: Sexual intercourse (Surveys)
Teenagers (Sexual behavior)
Sexual behavior surveys (Statistics)
Authors: Watts, Graham F. Sr.
Nagy, Stephen
Pub Date: 06/22/2000
Publication: Name: American Journal of Health Studies Publisher: American Journal of Health Studies Audience: Professional Format: Newsletter Subject: Health Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2000 American Journal of Health Studies ISSN: 1090-0500
Issue: Date: Summer, 2000 Source Volume: 16 Source Issue: 3
Geographic: Geographic Scope: Alabama; United States Geographic Name: Alabama Geographic Code: 1USA United States
Accession Number: 72731730
Full Text: Abstract: This study examined whether the association between gender and attitudes toward sexual intercourse would differ by perceived peer influences compared to perceived parent-guardian influences. The 1998 Alabama Adolescent Survey (N=2125) provided the original sample. Respondents (n = 548) included 9th and 10th grade students who were primarily Caucasians (60.8%) and African Americans (39.2%) who attended public high schools in rural, southern Alabama. Chi-square analyses indicated significant bivariate associations between gender and measures of attitude toward intercourse. The interactive nature of communication source highlighted th e complexity of gender based social support issues and how these interact to shape cognitive beliefs.

Family structure has major implications for the health, social well being, and scope of resources that are potentially available to children (Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics, 1998). National data have shown that fewer (31%) children live in two-parent families with income below 200% of the federal poverty level than children in non-traditional or single parent families (Halpern, Fernandez, Clark, 1999). These data suggest that health related issues are more problematic among children who do not live in traditional families.

Non-traditional families tend to be more common among minority populations (Downey, Ainsworth-Darnell, & Dufur, 1998). In 1980, more than three-quarters of children in the United States lived in two parent households compared to two-thirds in 1998. The "America's Children" report indicated that fewer African Americans (36%) lived with two parents than Hispanics (64%) or Whites (76%) (http:// www.childstats.gov/ac1999/poptxt.asp). A confounding factor in this trend has been the number of births to unmarried women. Teenage mothers comprise the single largest group of unwed women and their offspring are less likely to live with both parents (National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, 1997).

Single parent households present major parenting challenges. These parents often experience difficulty monitoring and controlling teenagers' activities (Upchurch, Storms, Sucoff, & Aneshensel, 1998), are less involved in their children's decision making (Bulcroft, Carmody, & Bulcroft, 1998), and have less time for child monitoring and supervision (Watts & Nagy, in press). Outcomes from parenting problems include: the development of permissive sexual attitudes by adolescents of single parents (Taris, & Semin, 1997), the initiation of sexual intercourse at earlier ages (Upchurch, Levy-Storms, Sucoff, & Aneshensel, 1998; Stoiber & Good, 1998), procurement of more school suspensions (Rodney & Mupier, 1999), and more involvement with alcohol (Felton et al., 1996; Horton-Parker, 1999; Mayer, Forster, Murray, & Wagenaar, 1998; Valois, Oeltmann, Waller, & Hussey, 1999; Boyer & Tschann, 1999). A major concern about adolescent populations centers on the practice of multiple risk behaviors, which increases the likelihood of negative health outcomes and decreases the social well being of youth (Stoiber & Good, 1998). The well being of youth may be improved by increasing resilience and improving the transition to adulthood (Hawkins, Catalano, & Miller, 1992; Svanberg, 1998).

The transition from childhood to adulthood generally follows a pattern where adolescents experience a developmental process preparing them for adult roles (Carlson, Catherine, & Spradling, 1991). As part of this transition, teens explore independence from parents and spend more time with friends learning to build peer relationships (Bahr, Marcos, & Maughan, 1995; van Beest & Baerveldt, 1999; Carole, 1999). This period often expresses itself through the realignment of the parent-child relationship; subsequently, successful management of interpersonal relations is crucial for a positive self-concept (Conger & Conger, 1997). Problems in parent-child relationships impair the ability of some parents to maintain supportive environments that could foster the adolescent's transition into more adult roles (Carlo, Fabes, Laible, & Kupanoff, 1999). This is particularly relevant since tension in the parent-teen relationship may foster teen's inclination toward seeking peer acceptance and distancing themselves from the family network (Leitch, 1998).

In addition to parental influences, peer groups have the potential to influence attitudes and normative beliefs and can shape individual perspectives and behavioral practices (Williams & Ayers, 1999; Boyer & Tschann, 1999). Membership in an at-risk group increases the likelihood that youngsters who associate with such peers may perceive greater pressure to practice behaviors that are normative for the group (Brooks, Stuewig, & LeCroy, 1998). This increases the likelihood that the practice of risky behaviors among adolescents may be shaped through the peer group experience. One must keep in mind however, that peer influence may be simultaneously competing with parental influence in shaping what is considered acceptable behavior.

Children's perception of parents as supportive and as authoritative are linked to fewer occurrences of risky behavior (Hostetler & Fisher, 1997; Fletcher & Jefferies, 1999).

This exploratory study responded to the call of Boyer and Tschann (1999) and examined the role of perceived peer influences compared to perceived parent-guardian influences and how these sources of influence modify adolescent attitudes toward sexual intercourse.

METHODS

INSTRUMENT

Data were derived from the 1998 Alabama Adolescent Survey (AAS). This instrument is a modified version of the original National Adolescent Student Health Survey (NASHS). The current version of the survey has retained a core of questions that have test-retest reliability levels exceeding 0.80. Additional items added to the current instrument examined a variety of health behaviors, attitudes and perspectives of peers and parents.

MEASURES

Grouping Variables: Gender and living arrangement were the main quasi-experimental variables. The former was coded male and female and the latter was coded both parents, mother-only, and others.

Dependent Variables: Exploratory factor analysis identified four items that comprised attitude toward intercourse (ati). The factor loadings of the items ranged from 0.61 to 0.81, indicating a positive and moderately strong relationship with attitude toward intercourse (ati). In addition, the Cronbach alpha coefficient of .73 indicated an acceptable level of consistency among the items. All items used a five point Likert response option where "one" indicated "strongly agree" and "five" indicated "strongly disagree." Two items were reverse coded. The individual items asked, a) I believe that it is OK for people my age to say NO to having sex; b) I believe that it is OK for people my age to have sex with someone they have dated for a long time; c) I believe that it is OK for people my age to have intercourse with different people; and d) I believe that people my age should not have intercourse. Students' who responded to items by selecting "strongly agree" or "agree" were collapsed into the "agreement group" and those who responded to the other response options were collapsed into the "disagreement group."

Explanatory Variable: Sources of communication was the main explanatory variable. It comprised two items that asked respondents' to identify who they often talk to concerning questions about sex. The sources of communication included best friends and mother or stepmother. Responses were scored using a four point Likert scale ranging from "frequently," "sometimes," "rarely" or "never." Students who responded to both items by selecting "frequently" or "sometimes" were collapsed into the "talked to parents and best-friends group," and those who responded to both items in an inconsistent fashion were collapsed into the "talked to mother or stepmother only group," or "talked to best-friend only group." Students who avoided discussions with either source were collapsed into the "talked to neither parents nor best-friends group." Although four groups were available, this study operationalized sources of communication as "talked to mother or stepmother," and "talked to best friends only." The literature clearly supports this since adolescence is punctuated by either renegotiated communication with parents or more communication with peers (Bogenschneider, Wu, Raffaelli, & Tsay, 1998).

SAMPLING

Data consisted of a voluntary sample of adolescents who attended sixteen school districts in Alabama during 1998. Passive consent was obtained from youths and their parents. A review of Alabama Health Department data on morbidity and mortality rates and teenage pregnancy rates showed that the participating sample was representative of counties in the southern and central regions of Alabama.

PARTICIPANTS

The larger cross-section of students (N=2125) present on the day of testing were mostly 9th and 10th grade public high school students. All students in rural districts provided data. In larger districts, schools were randomly selected and at least 250 students were included from randomly selected classes. Occasionally, the sample included several intact classes. All classes completed the survey in the school's cafeteria, gymnasium, or auditorium. Allowing for semi-privacy, students received a questionnaire, a computer answer sheet, and a pencil. After listening to instructions about anonymity, confidentiality, voluntary participation, and discontinuing the survey without penalty, students completed the survey unobserved by peers or members of the research team. During the administration of the survey, a school administrator and a counselor were present to identify students in need of assistance due to mental duress. No cases of duress emerged. Students deposited completed answer sheets in a large enclosed collection box.

DATA ANALYSIS

The Statistical Package for the Social Sciences, Windows software, version 8.01 (SPSS, Inc., 1998) was used for analyses. Chi-square tests were run on a sub-sample of 548 students to assess how perceived peer influences compared to perceived parent-guardian influences on attitudes toward sexual intercourse. This unique sub-group was selected because it provided completed responses to all the variables used in this study. All reverse coded items were recoded prior to analytic analyses. Statistical adjustment for repeated analyses incorporated a Bonferroni modification to stabilize the Type I error rate at the critical alpha level; therefore, statistical significance was achieved at 0.0125.

RESULTS

Table I presents demographic characteristics of the 548 respondents. The adolescents were from 14 through 16 years of age, and almost all (92.2%) were between 15 and 16 year olds. More females (70.3%) than males (29.7%) and more Caucasians (60.8) than African Americans (39.2%) were drawn from the larger data set. A little over half (57.3%) lived with both biological parents, about one-fourth (24.6%) lived with mother only while the rest (18.1%) were scattered among diverse living arrangements.

Table I. Demographic Characteristics of Respondents

Table II presents attitude toward intercourse by gender. Three of four dependent measures achieved statistical significance. More females than males were in agreement with the questions asked. For example, they reported that people their ages (a) should say "no" to having sex (22.1%, [chi square] = 54.58, df=1, p = .000) and (b) should not have sex (18.1%, [chi square] = 15.60, df=1, p = .000). However, they also agreed that it may be OK to have sex with different people (24.1%, [chi square] = 37.36, df-1, p = .000).

Table II. Attitude toward Intercourse by Gender

(*) p = .000

Table III presents attitude toward intercourse by gender for different sources of communication. The results indicated that the magnitudes of differences that characterize the original relationships between gender and attitude toward intercourse depended on who respondents espoused for personal questions about sexual intercourse.

Table III. Attitude toward Intercourse by Gender for Different Sources of Communications

(*) p = .000

TMOSM&BF: Talked with mother or stepmother and best friend/s

TBFO: Talked with best friend/s only

For respondents who talked with mother or stepmother and best friend/s, all variables retained statistical significance. The magnitude of differences in proportions was increased compared to the bivariate associations reported in Table II. For example, more females than males were in agreement with the idea that people their ages (a) should say "no" to having sex (26.6% vs 22.1%, [chi square] = 39..97, df=1, p = .000) and (b) should not have sex (26.8% vs 18.1%, [chi square] - 15.62, df=1, p = .000). However, they also agreed that it may be OK to have sex with different people (27.2% vs 24.1%, [chi square] = 24.98, df=1, p =.000).

In contrast to respondents who talked with best friends, only 'two variables retained statistical significance. The magnitude of the differences in proportions decreased compared to the bivariate associations reported in Table II. For example, more females than males were in agreement with the idea that people their ages (a) should say "no" to having sex (17.9% vs 22.1%, [chi square] = 18.02, df=1, p = .000) and (b) that it maybe OK to have sex with different people (20.5 % vs 24.1%, [chi square] = 13.21, df=1, p = .000).

CONCLUSIONS

This study is somewhat unique in that it deals exclusively with southern youngsters in Alabama who are primarily Caucasian and African American. It utilizes self-report methodology and due to these factors, findings may not generalize to other adolescent populations.

The study examined whether associations between attitude toward intercourse and gender would differ by perceived peer influences compared to perceived parent-guardian influences. Whereas studies of adolescent's attitudes toward deviant behaviors have emphasized findings based on gender (Taris & Semin, 19972; Hostetler & Fisher, 1997; Fletcher & Jefferies, 1999), this study presents new information that offers a preliminary explanation for gender based attitudes toward intercourse. Indications are that who the respondent's talk to about sexual questions has some relationship with their attitude about intercourse.

Results showed that the majority of participants were females and Caucasians who lived with both biological parents. Overall, the group belonged to the middle adolescent stage of development, a period that is particularly relevant to the study since sexual intercourse is often initiated by early or middle adolescence. This is especially true among some youth who are less developmentally mature (Kotchick, Dorsey, Forehand, & Miller, 1999).

A two step approach was used two examine the bivariate association of gender and attitude toward intercourse. In the first step, .analyses confirmed the relationship between gender and attitude toward intercourse. The findings revealed that females were more likely than males to agree that people their ages should say "NO" to sex and should "NOT" have sex; however, these students were less conservative about people their ages having sex with different persons. This proclivity toward permissiveness is consistent with prior research, which showed a trend toward multiple sex partners among younger teens (Kann et a., 1998). The response pattern may indicate deficits in specific areas of sexuality knowledge and/or communication skills. It appears that as far as popular responses were concerned, many students' could articulate what has become conventional wisdom; however, when examined on normative and behavioral dimensions, no inferences about conventionality could be sustained.

Evidence from recent research (Moore and Rienzo, 2000) showed that abstinence and STD/HIV were among the top sexuality topics that were most often taught by school teachers in contrast to communication topics such as negotiation and assertiveness. The differential emphasis that is placed on selected components of the 36 topics covered in "Guidelines for Comprehensive Sexuality Education" may account for increased knowledge about some aspects of sexuality, but intransigent sexual attitudes and behaviors (Brock & Basely, 1995).

Additional analyses in this study examined changes in the relationship between gender and attitude toward intercourse for two sources of interpersonal communication (i.e., peers-only and mother or stepmother-and-friend/s). As expected, the proportion of females who expressed agreement with the dependent variables was contingent upon who students' held as close confidants. Dialog with mother or stepmother and best friend/s accompanied the increased proportion of students' who thought that people their ages should say "NO" to sex, should NOT have sex, and should have sex with different persons. These findings seem plausible since students' may rely on both sources of communication to meet different needs. However, the cross-sectional research design did not facilitate ruling out the opposite effect: sexually active teens who think that teens their ages should say "NO" to sex and should "NOT" have sex were more likely to have discussed sexual questions with parents and best friend/s.

Some youth talked to best friend/s only. Of this group, females in contrast to males who discussed sexual questions with best friend/s fared better on one attitudinal measure and worst on another. Specifically, fewer females than males agreed that teen's their ages should have sex with different persons and fewer agreed that it was OK for people their ages to say "NO" to sex. This suggests that peer communication could influence attitudes and values in a positive way (Bahr, Marcos, & Maughan, 1995). It is doubtful however, whether teens' could rely on intercommunication in peer networks as a reliable source of guidance for decision making.

DISCUSSION

This study has implications for adolescent pregnancy prevention and STD prevention programs. Value expectancy paradigms rely on individually oriented behavior change strategies that emphasize the relationship of attitudes and norms to behavior change. For the most part, these factors are expressed at the global level. This exploratory study indicates that psychosocial measures such as attitudes that incorporate multiple dimensions may assist in clarifying how adolescents' belief and evaluation influence their sexual behavior. As has been demonstrated in first generation public health programs, the one-size fits all approach cannot reach all subgroups. Implications are that two strategies should be incorporated in the development of intervention programs. First, interventions should be sensitive to gender based social support issues and how these interact to shape cognitive beliefs. This approach will require considerable tailoring of programs to address these cognitive needs.

A second approach may center on extensive formative research to inform program development. This process should target the identification of significant others who are relied upon as interpersonal sources of communication. Much like a "train-the-trainer" program, utilizing this strategy incorporates more stakeholders in the planning process and may strengthen the base of social reinforcers that can be available to teens. Empowering parents and friends to provide specific environment support should foster conventional norms favorable to adolescents' well being.

More research is needed to test the findings of this exploratory study. An approach that incorporates an experimental study design should offer a better test of the relationship between gender, attitude toward intercourse and communication source.

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Graham F. Watts, Sr., MSH, Doctoral Student, University of Alabama, Department of Health Science, P.O. Box 870312, Tuscaloosa, AL 35487-0311, (PH) 205-348-2486 or 349-3215. (FAX) 205-348-2956, e-mail: watsieboy@hotmail.com. Stephen Nagy, Ph.D., Professor, University of Alabama, Department of Health Science, P.O. Box 870312, Tuscaloosa, AL 35487-0311, (PH) 205-348-8373, (FAX) 205-348-7568 or 348-0867, e-mail: SNAGY@CHES.UA.EDU.
Demographic Variables      N           %

Age
  14                       43         7.8
  15                      229        41.8
  16                      276        50.4

Gender
  Female                  385        70.3
  Male                    163        29.7
Race
  White                   333        60.8
  African American        215        39.2
Living Arrangement
  Both Parents            314        57.3
  Mother-Only             135        24.6
  Others                   99        18.1


Gender

                        Female       Male
                       (n = 385)   (n = 163)
Dependent Variables        %           %

Agreed that its OK       95.1       73.0(*)
for people my age
to say no to having
intercourse

Agreed that its OK       24.4       20.9
people my age can
have intercourse
with steady date

Agreed that its OK       84.2       60.1(*)
people my age can
have intercourse
different people


Agreed that people my    45.7       27.6(*)
age should not have
intercourse


TMOSM&BF                 TBFO

                         Female       Male      Female       Male
Dependent Variables     (n = 200)   (n = 73)   (n = 185)   (n = 90)
                            %          %           %          %

Agreed that its OK        96.5      73.0(*)      93.5      75.6(*)
for people my age to
say no to having
intercourse

Agreed that its OK        26.0        17.8       22.7        23.3
people my age can
have intercourse with
steady date

Agreed that its OK        87.5      60.3(*)      80.5      60.0(*)
people my age can
have intercourse with
different people

Agreed that people my     51.5      24.7(*)      39.5        30.0
age would not have
intercourse
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