The Association Between Sexual Health and Physical, Mental, and Social Health in Adolescent Women



      Developmental models link sexual well-being to physical, mental/emotional, and social well-being, yet little empirical literature evaluates these relationships in adolescents. Better understanding of how and when sexuality complements other aspects of health may yield important points to enhance existing health education and prevention efforts.


      Data were drawn from a 10-year longitudinal cohort study of sexual relationships and sexual behavior among adolescent women (N = 387; 14–17 years at enrollment). Sexual health data were drawn from quarterly partner-specific interviews and were linked to physical, mental/emotional, and social health information in annual questionnaires. Random intercept, mixed effects linear, ordinal logistic, or binary logistic regression were used to estimate the influence of sexual health on health and well-being outcomes (Stata, v.23, StataCorp, College Station, TX). All models controlled for participant age and race/ethnicity.


      Higher sexual health was significantly associated with less frequent nicotine and substance use, lower self-reported depression, lower thrill seeking, higher self-esteem, having fewer friends who use substances, higher religiosity, better social integration, lower frequency of delinquent behavior and crime, and more frequent community group membership. Sexual health was not associated with the number of friends who used cigarettes.


      Positive sexually related experiences in romantic relationships during adolescence may complement physical, mental/emotional, and social health. Addressing specific aspects of healthy sexual development during clinical encounters could dually help primary prevention and health education address other common adolescent health issues.


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