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J Adolesc Health. 2001 May;28(5):404-9.

Personal values and sexual decision-making among virginal and sexually experienced urban adolescent girls.

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Department of Pediatrics, Boston University School of Medicine, Boston, Massachusetts, USA.



To guide the development of an intervention to reduce the incidence of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) in urban, adolescent girls, we investigated such girls' reasons for deciding to have or not to have sexual intercourse.


Consecutive girls >or=14 years of age attending an urban adolescent clinic were invited to complete an anonymous survey about sexual decision-making. In this pilot study, girls were asked: (a) whether they agreed with a statement that they had or had not had sexual intercourse "because of my values and beliefs"; and (b) to select from a list one or more specific reasons why they had or had not had intercourse. The girls were categorized by self-report as either "virgins," "currently inactive" (no intercourse in the preceding 3 months), or "currently active" (had intercourse during the preceding 3 months).


Usable surveys were obtained from 197 adolescents whose age (18.2 +/- 2.6 years) and race (69% black) were comparable to those of clinic attendees in general. Forty girls (20%; age 16.1 +/- 2.1 years) were virgins, 25 girls (13%; age 17.8 +/- 2.3 years) were inactive, and 132 girls (67%; age 18.9 +/- 2.5 years) were currently active. "Values and beliefs" were cited as the reason for decisions about sexual behavior by 53% of the virgins, but only by 24% of the sexually inactive and 24% of the sexually active girls (p = .002). Virgins were more likely than inactive girls to cite three specific reasons for not having sex: "not the right thing for me now" (82% vs. 50%, p = .007), "waiting until I am older" (69% vs. 8%, p = .001), and "waiting until I am married" (67% vs. 38%, p = .02). The reason "against my religious beliefs" was cited by 23% of virgins and 13% of inactive girls (p = not significant). Personal values were implicit in the two specific reasons for having sex that active girls chose most frequently, namely, "I like/love the person" (86%) and "I like having sex" (37%), although only 24% of these girls had explicitly cited "values and beliefs" as their reason for having sex.


Our data indicate that urban girls, both those who have had sexual intercourse and those who have not, view their sexual behavior as being based on personal (although infrequently religious) values. Many of the virginal urban, adolescent girls we surveyed hold abstinence as a personal value. The sexually active adolescents perceive the decision to have sexual intercourse as being based affirmatively on their personal values rather than on the chance occurrence of opportunities to have intercourse. These data may be useful in the development of new strategies for reducing urban adolescent girls' risk of acquiring sexually transmitted diseases.

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