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 Sex Between Adolescents in Romantic Relationships Is Often Harmless to Their Academic Achievement and Other Academic Measures

 The same is not true for sexual intercourse outside of romantic relationships

Atlanta, Aug. 15, 2010 — The context in which adolescent sexual activity occurs can substantially moderate the negative relationship between sexual intercourse and education, according to research that was presented at the 105th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association.

"Compared to abstinence, sexual intercourse in committed romantic relationships is often academically harmless, whereas in other types of relationships it is more detrimental," said Bill McCarthy and Eric Grodsky, sociologists at the University of California-Davis and the University of Minnesota, respectively. "Females and males who have sex only with romantic partners are generally similar to abstainers on most of the education measures we examined."

Titled, "Sex and School: Adolescent Sexual Intercourse and Education," the study considers nine education measures: (1) school attachment, (2) high school GPA, (3) college aspiration, (4) college expectations, (5) problems in school, (6) ever truant, (7) the number of days truant, (8) school sanctions (suspended/expelled), and (9) dropping out. The analysis uses two waves of data from the "National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health" and the "Adolescent Health Academic Achievement Study."

Compared to abstainers who are otherwise similar to adolescents who have sex, youth who have sex only with partners with whom they are not romantically involved are at greater risk on the following measures: (1) experiencing problems in school, (2) being suspended or expelled, (3) being less likely to expect to attend college, (4) being less attached to school, and (5) earning lower grades. In contrast, youth who have sex only with romantic partners are not statistically different from virgins on any of these five measures, adjusting for other characteristics of the students. The only outcomes for which youth engaging in either type of sex are at greater risk than abstainers are truancy and, in some contexts, dropping out.

"Collectively, our results find that the detrimental outcomes commonly attributed to adolescent sexual  intercourse occur mostly in non-romantic contexts," said McCarthy and Grodsky. "These findings raise doubts about the veracity of sexual education programs that link adolescent sex to a plethora of negative outcomes."

The paper, "Sex and School: Adolescent Sexual Intercourse and Education," was presented on Sunday, Aug. 15, at 12:30 p.m. EST in the Hilton Atlanta at the American Sociological Association's 105th Annual Meeting.

To obtain a copy of the paper, for more information on other ASA presentations, or for assistance reaching the study's authors, contact Daniel Fowler at pubinfo@asanet.org or (202) 527-7885. During the Annual Meeting (Aug. 13-17), ASA's Public Information Office staff can be reached in the press room, located in Room 202 of the Hilton Atlanta, at (404) 572-6511 or (914) 450-4557 (cell).

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About the American Sociological Association
The American Sociological Association (www.asanet.org), founded in 1905, is a non-profit membership association dedicated to serving sociologists in their work, advancing sociology as a science and profession, and promoting the contributions to and use of sociology by society.