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How risky behaviors, protective factors and selected theory of planned behavior constructs influence age of sexual debut among high school students in the city of San Bernardino, California.


Adolescent health and well being is influenced by a variety of behaviors and factors. Early sexual debut is a growing concern among our adolescents and is a significant public health challenge. During adolescent years, the initiation of sexual intercourse is associated with an increased number of sex partners and a greater risk for Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs). Despite dramatic decreases in teenage pregnancy and birth rates, the U.S. still has substantially higher levels of adolescent pregnancy, childbearing and STI compared to other developed countries. Preventable risk behaviors such as substance abuse, unprotected sexual intercourse, reckless driving, violent behaviors and early sexual debut are known to significantly contribute to adolescent morbidity and mortality. Risky behaviors as well as protective factors have emerged as constructs to help us better understand many of these issues including that of adolescent sexual debut. Data from the 2001 San Bernardino City Unified School District Youth Risk Behavior (YRBS) and Local Assets (LAS) Survey were used to examine how health risk behaviors, protective factors and theory of planned behavior constructs were associated with intention to have sex and sexual debut among high school students. Analyses include descriptive and summary statistics, Cox Regression, Spearman's rho Correlations, Linear Regression and Survival Analysis. Findings suggest primary indicators of sexual debut among these high school students were substance use and emotional support from boy/girlfriend or sexual partner. Protective factors found to be significant in delaying sexual activity were community connectedness and views against teen sex. Intention to have sex was predicted by current alcohol and marijuana use, receiving emotional support from boy/girlfriend or sexual partner and having a positive attitude toward sex. Further, intention to have sex in the next year was one of the strongest predictors for earlier sexual debut among adolescents. Study findings will help to further frame health education programs and interventions that focus on delaying age of sexual debut among adolescents.