Children who engage in sexual intercourse at an early age are at increased risk for many psychological and physical problems. One of the primary indicators for early sexual activity is maltreatment. “A childhood history of maltreatment, including sexual abuse, physical abuse, psychological abuse, and neglect, has been identiﬁed as a risk factor for early initiation of sexual intercourse,” said Sarah E. Oberlander of the University of Maryland School and lead author of a study assessing the effects of parental monitoring on adolescents’ decision to become sexually active. Research has shown that children who have been maltreated look for the physical intimacy, companionship and acceptance they never received from parents, from sexual partners. But this behavior can have devastating consequences for these youth, including emotional distress, sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies.
Oberlander and her colleagues collected data from 637 children enrolled in the Longitudinal Studies of Child Abuse and Neglect (LONGSCAN), and looked at lifetime reports, personal interviews and self-reports of abuse, stress and sexual activity. The sample included children who had experienced physical abuse (45%), psychological abuse (59%), sexual abuse (26%) and neglect (57%). The remaining children (21%) had no abuse history and served as the control group.
The results revealed that maltreated children received less parental monitoring and were more likely to be sexually active by age 14 than those with more parental involvement. “Regardless of maltreatment history, both boys and girls whose caregivers engaged in high levels of monitoring (based on reports from both youth and caregivers) were at lower risk of early initiation of sexual activity,” said the researchers. “The prevention of sexual intercourse is likely inﬂuenced by reduced opportunities to engage in risky behavior as well as youth-perceived sense of support and a connected family relationship.” They added, “Promoting monitoring among parents, and perceptions of monitoring among youth, may delay or decrease adolescents’ initiation of sexual intercourse and buffer emotional distress symptoms.”
Oberlander, S. E., Wang, Y., Thompson, R., Lewis, T., Proctor, L. J., Isbell, P., English, D. J., Dubowitz, H., Litrownik, A. J., & Black, M. M. (2011, September 19). Childhood Maltreatment, Emotional Distress, and Early Adolescent Sexual Intercourse: Multi-Informant Perspectives on Parental Monitoring. Journal of Family Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0025423
© Copyright 2011 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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