Adolescent Sex and Well-Being: Are Local Norms Important?

Ann Meier, University of Minnesota
Eric Grodsky, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Bill McCarthy, University of California, Davis

A growing literature links adolescent sex to non-physical outcomes including depression, disinterest in education and delinquency. Recent evidence suggests that the relationship context in which sex occurs contributes to its consequences. Using multi-level models and the Add Health data, we broaden the scope of relevant others beyond relationship partners to ask if local sex norms among friends, classmates or schoolmates condition the links between sex and adolescent mental health, delinquency, or academic performance. On the one hand, such a relationship is expected, as norms are especially salient and powerful in adolescence as identities and reputations are developing. On the other hand, sex is largely a private matter. With the ability to avoid sanctions by nondisclosure, teens may internalize sex norms less than most other norms leaving them unimportant in shaping the consequences of sex. Our preliminary findings are consistent with this latter explanation.

  See paper

Presented in Session 217: Happiness, Parenting, and Childbearing