Social Influences on Sexuality

Word Count: 1973 |

Social Influences on Sexuality
Much of what is known about Hispanic adolescent sexuality comes from studies that compare Hispanics with other ethnic groups. For instance, Hispanic adolescent fertility has been found to be as high, or higher, than White teens’, but lower than that of Black adolescents (Darabi & Ortiz, 1987; Hayes, 1987). White teens report a higher number of coital partners than Hispanic teens(Aneshensel, Fielder, & Becerra, 1989), but the pregnancy rate for Hispanic teenage females is higher than that of Whites (Hayes, 1987). Furthermore, socioeconomic status alone does not explain the higher fertility rate of Hispanic females (Aneshensel et al., 1989).
Only a few studies have examined possible influences on the initiation of sexual activity by Hispanics, and these have been limited to family structure variables (e.g., Aneshensel et al., 1989) or measures of individual characteristics (e.g., Robbins, Kaplan, & Martin, 1985). Family interaction has not been included in any studies to date, and only one study has examined peer influences using female Hispanics (Gibson & Kempf, 1990). The lack of attention to family interaction is somewhat surprising because this particular ethnic minority possesses a strong devotion to “la familia” (Zayas & Schinke, 1987). Hence, it could be postulated that family relationships are likely to play a significant role in this group’s adolescent sexual behavior
The purpose of our study was to address this deficiency by examining the relative influence of family, individual, and social variables on the sexual activity of Hispanic adolescents. In contrast to previous work, we used a sample of Hispanic teens at an early stage of adolescent development and focused on a range of sexual behaviors instead of concentrating exclusively on sexual intercourse. Such an approach allowed an examination of the relative strength of different correlates at a developmental period when many adolescents are exploring the early stages of sexual expression.
Family Influences
There has been a long-standing belief among researchers and practitioners that the family environment plays a major role in adolescent sexual expression. Although many investigators have focused on family structure variables, such as single parenting (Forste & Heaton, 1988), maternal employment (Hansson, O’Connor, Jones, & Blocker, 1980), and parental education (Forste & Heaton, 1988), in the current investigation we were more concerned with influences that reflected family interaction. For instance, a number of researchers have examined the relationship between parent-child communication and adolescent sexual attitudes and behavior. Kantner and Zelnik (1972) and Chilman (1980) were early researchers of this relationship who concluded that poor family communication was more typical of coitally experienced teens than of virgins.
Some of the more recent work has supported these early findings. Fisher (1986) found sexual attitude concordance between parents and teens with high levels of parent-child communication. Moore, Peterson, and Furstenberg (1986) reported a lower incidence of sexual intercourse among daughters in traditional families where parents and adolescents listened to each other and discussed parental decisions compared to daughters whose communication with their parents did not have these qualities. Other findings, however, have failed to support such a relationship. Moore et al. (1986) reported that sexual discussions with sons in traditional households were related to greater sexual involvement, although these parents may have increased their sexual discussions after their sons had started to have intercourse. In addition, Newcomer and Udry’s (1985) longitudinal study found no relationship between parent-adolescent communication and adolescent coital involvement. Such inconsistencies may exist because of the diverse manner in which family communication has been measured. Many researchers have relied on single-item indicators of parent-child communication whereas only a few have used multiple-item measures (e.g., Fisher, 1987).
A second family variable that may play a role in adolescent sexual expression is parental warmth. Parental warmth refers to the parent’s acceptance of the child as an individual of worth and reflects the parent’s willingness to invest time and energy in the child (Schaeffer, 1965). Although this variable has not been previously included,in adolescent sexuality studies, findings from investigations that have focused on this or similar variables suggest its importance as a possible influence. Parental warmth has been seen as conceptually equivalent to parental support (Peterson & Leigh, 1990), and parental support has been linked to the development of parent-adolescent interconnectedness (Peterson, Rollins, & Thomas, 1985). In fact, several studies have found parental support to be related to adolescents’ voluntary conformity to parental expectations (see Peterson & Leigh, 1990, for a review). It is therefore not surprising that parental involvement with a child has been found to correlate negatively with adolescent sexual activity (Hall, 1986), and it can be predicted that parental warmth is negatively related to early onset of sexual involvement.
There are several reasons to argue that family influences would be particularly potent for Hispanic youth. According to the “minority status” hypothesis, there are distinct aspects of a minority culture that exert influence on behavior regardless of the economic characteristics of that culture. This hypothesis has received support. Aneshensel et al. (1989) demonstrated that fertility-related behaviors of Hispanic adolescents were better explained by ethnic membership than by factors related to the adolescents’ social and economic environment. These researchers speculated that the profamily values of the Hispanic culture had an impact on the adolescents’ sexual expression. This speculation is plausible because within the Hispanic subculture the ethos of familialism places family ties and loyalty above all else, including individual needs (Mirande, 1977). The family is the basic source of emotional support throughout the life span, and obligations between parent and child are emphasized (Moss, Barnett, & Alvarez, 1982). Furthermore, mothers play a particularly prominent role in Hispanic adolescent development. Hispanic teens typically list their mothers as an individual they want to please and the person to whom they feel closest (Becerra & deAnda, 1984; Moss et al., 1982). Finally, traditional values held by Hispanic families discourage premarital sexual exploration (Darabi & Ortiz, 1987). Thus, it would follow that family influences would play a salient role in Hispanic adolescent sexual expression.
Social Influence
Reference Group theory has been used to contrast the influence of family and peers on teen sexual behavior (Christopher & Roosa, 1991). According to this theory, teens choose either family or peers as significant referents by which they can judge the correctness of their own behavior. For the current study, this would mean that teens would choose one group for the purposes of setting standards for sexual involvement. Few studies have simultaneously tested the influence of both family and peers on young adolescents. However, past findings have suggested that perceiving one’s peers as sexually active is correlated with one’s own sexual activity. For instance, adolescent femmes who believe their friends are coitally active are likely to engage in sexual intercourse themselves (Shah & Zelnik, 1981), including young Hispanic female teens (Gibson & Kempf, 1990). Studies that have directly assessed peer behavior, rather than adolescents’ perceptions of peer behavior, have shown that White, but not Black, adolescents who engaged in intercourse have friends who are similarly active (Billy & Udry, 1985; Udry & Billy, 1987). Additionally, Billy et al. (1988) found that White males who had coital experience became more peer oriented and less family oriented over time. This transition did not occur, however, for White females nor for Blacks regardless of gender.

Aneshensel, C. S., Fielder, E. P., & Becerra, S. (1989). Fertility and fertility-related be harbor among Mexican-American and Non-Hispanic White female adolescents Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 3[missing text] 56-76.

Barnes, H., & Olson, D. (1982). Parent-adolescent communication scales. In D. H. Olson H. J. McCubbin, H. Barnes, A. Larsen, M Muxen, & M. Wilson (Eds.), Family inventories (pp. 33-48). St. Paul, MN: University of Minnesota.

Billy, J. O. G., Landale, N. S., Grady, W. R., & Zimmerle, D. M. (1988). Effects of sexual activity on adolescent social and psychological development. Social Psychology Quarterly, 51,190-212.

Billy, J. O. G., & Udry, J. R. (1985). Patterns o[missing text] adolescent friendship and effects on sexual behavior. Social Psychology Quarterly, 45 27-41.

Chilman, C. (1980). Adolescent sexuality in a changing American society. Washington. DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Christopher, F. S., & Roosa, M. W. (1990). Evaluation of an adolescent pregnancy prevention program: Is “just say no” enough? Family Relations, 39, 68-72.

Christopher, F. S., & Roosa, M. W. (1991). Factors affecting sexual decisions in the premarital relationships of adolescents and young adults. In K. McKinney & S. Sprecher (Eds.), Sexuality in close relationships (pp. 111-134). Hillsdale, N J: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Cobliner, W. G. ( 1981). Prevention of adolescent pregnancy: A developmental perspective. Birth Defects: Original Article Series, 13(3), 35-47.

Cvetkovich, G., & Grote, B. (1980). Psychological development and the social problem of teenage illegitimacy. In C. Chilman (Ed.), Adolescent pregnancy and childbearing: Findings from research (pp. 15-41). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Darabi, K. F., & Ortiz, V. (1987). Childbearing among young Latino women in the United States. American Journal of Public Health, 77, 25-28.

DeLamater, J., & MacCorquodale, P. (1979). Premarital sexuality: Attitudes, relationships, behavior. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.

DiBlasio, F. A., & Benda, B. B. (1990). Adolescent sexual behavior: Multivariate analysis of a social learning model. Journal of Adolescent Research, 5, 449-466.

Fisher, T. D. (1986). An exploratory study of communication about sex and similarity in sexual attitudes in early, middle, and late adolescents and their parents. Journal of Genetic Psychology, 147, 543-557.

Fisher, T. D. (1987). Family communication and the sexual behavior and attitudes of college students. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 16, 481-495.

Fisher, T. D. (1989). An extension of the findings of Moore, Peterson, and Furstenberg (1986) regarding family sexual communication and adolescent sexual behavior. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 51, 637-640.

Forste, R. T., & Heaton, T. (1988). Initiation of sexual activity among female adolescents. Youth and Society, 19,250-268.

Gibson, J. W., & Kempf, J. (1990). Attitudinal predictors of sexual activity in Hispanic adolescent females. Journal of Adolescent Research, 5, 414-430.

Hall, E. H. (1986). Factors associated with sexual activity in early adolescence. Journal of Social Work and Human Sexuality, 5, 23-34.

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