Longitudinal Patterns of Multidimensional Violence Exposure and Adolescent Early Sexual Initiation

Publication Year


Journal Article

Early sexual intercourse is associated with sexually transmitted infections, pregnancy, and depressive symptoms, and delay of intercourse allows adolescents opportunities to practice relationship skills (Coker et al., 1994; Kugler et al., 2017; Spriggs & Halpern, 2008; Harden, 2012). Thus, understanding predictors of early sexual intercourse is crucial. Prior research has suggested that violence exposure is associated with early initiation of sexual intercourse in adolescence (Abajobir et al., 2018; Orihuela et al., 2020). However, most studies have looked only at a single type of violence exposure. In addition, little research has examined longitudinal patterns of violence exposure in order to determine whether there are particular periods when the violence exposure may have the strongest impact on sexual behavior. Guided by life history and cumulative disadvantage theories, we use longitudinal latent class analysis and data from the Future of Families and Child Well-being Study (N = 3,396; 51.1% female, 48.9% male) to examine how longitudinal patterns of multiple types of violence exposures across ages 3 to 15 are associated with early sexual initiation in adolescence. Findings suggest that experiencing persistent physical and emotional abuse across childhood is associated with the greatest prevalence of early sexual initiation. Early exposure to violence was not consistently associated with greater likelihood of sexual initiation; instead, early abuse was more strongly associated with sexual initiation for boys, while late childhood abuse was more strongly associated for girls. These findings suggest that gender-sensitive programs are highly needed to address unique risk factors for boys’ and girls’ sexual behaviors.

Archives of sexual behavior