This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

Adolescents’ Sexual Risk Behaviors: What Roles Do Parental Warmth, Parental Psychological Control, Adolescent Psychological Well-Being and Demographics Play?




Lathem, Bailey

Type of Degree



Human Development and Family Studies


Although adolescents’ relationships with their parents have been widely studied, how adolescents’ relationships with their parents are associated with adolescents’ sexuality is one area of research that is beginning to expand. The current study examined aspects of the parent-adolescent relationship as they relate to risky sexual behaviors of adolescents (having sex at an early age, having multiple partners, and less condom use). For the current study, parent-adolescent relationships were measured in terms of parental warmth/support and parental psychological control. This study also examined potential moderating influences on the association between parent-adolescent relationships and adolescent risky sexual behaviors such as adolescent demographics (age, race, gender, and family structure) and adolescent psychological well-being indicators (depression, relationship anxiety, and self-esteem). Lastly, the relatively recently examined phenomenon in adolescent sexual activity, that of of sexual intercourse outside of dating relationships, also was explored. The current study utilized a secondary dataset containing a sample of 3,031 African American and European American adolescent males and females in grades 9-12 from two cohorts to examine associations among parental warmth/support, parental psychological control, adolescent psychological well-being, demographics, and adolescents’ sexual risk behaviors. Multiple regression analysis was used to test the study hypotheses that high levels of warm and supportive parenting and low psychological control would be related to less risky sexual behavior. Overall it was found that being male, African American, older, and not living with two biological or adoptive parents was positively related to risky sex. Parental warmth/support was found to be a significant and negative predictor of risky sexual behaviors in adolescence, whereas the association between parental psychological control and risky sexual behavior was moderated by gender. Lastly, for the comparison of sex in --Y΄hookup‘ and long term relationship groups, mean level differences were found between gender, family structure, age, relationship anxiety, and self esteem. The ΄hookup‘ group (i.e., adolescents having sex outside of a relationship) consisted of younger adolescents, and was comprised of a greater percentage of females and adolescents from family structures that were not headed by two biological or adoptive parents. Those ΄hooking up‘ also reported more relationship anxiety and lower self-esteem than adolescents in the long-term relationship group. Implications for future research are discussed.