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J Adolesc Health. 2004 Mar;34(3):209-15.

Primary and secondary sexual abstinence in high school students.

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  • 1Division of General Pediatrics and Adolescent Health, Department of Pediatrics, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55404, USA.



To assess reasons for choosing not to have sexual intercourse among two groups: virgins (primary abstainers) and already sexually experienced youth (secondary abstainers).


73,464 Minnesota ninth- and twelfth-grade adolescents completed the 1998 Minnesota Student Survey. Respondents identified reasons for abstinence from a checklist from which they could nominate all relevant items. Reasons for each group were analyzed using Chi-square with a conservative criterion value (p <.001) owing to large sample size. Logistic regression was used to examine the associations of gender, grade, and their interactions, with reasons for abstinence.


Sixty-six percent reported never having had intercourse (primary abstainers). Among sexually experienced youth, 7.8% reported choosing not to have intercourse (secondary abstainers). Fear of pregnancy was the reason endorsed most often, more by girls than by boys (OR = 26 for primary abstainers, 6.9 for secondary abstainers). Fear of other adverse consequences, such as sexually transmitted infections, parental disapproval, or fear of getting caught, were generally selected by more girls than boys, and by more primary than secondary abstainers. Similarly, more girls and primary abstainers than boys or secondary abstainers generally selected statements reflecting normative beliefs on youth or their friends having intercourse.


Fear of adverse consequences and normative beliefs about the appropriateness of having sexual intercourse were most frequently endorsed as important reasons by both groups of abstainers.

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