Sex, drugs, and rock and roll aren’t just for the baby boomers anymore. The latest work from French and Dishion entitled “Predictors of Early Initiation of Sexual Intercourse Among High-Risk Adolescents” (2017) looks at the connection between early sexual initiation and problem behaviour in high-risk children age 11 to 14. And if you think the idea of eleven-year-olds losing their virginity is terrifying, wait until you find out what else they might be up to.
Finding the Sex-Antisocial Connection
Here, researchers looked at the risk factors believed to be linked to early sexual initiation (parental monitoring, deviant-peer involvement, relationship quality, coercive parenting, family structure, delinquency, antisocial behaviour, and substance abuse) and how strongly early sexual initiation is linked to problem behaviour.
To do so, they gathered virgin, high-risk, children aged 11 to 14, and performed a variety of multimodal and multi agent tests including self-reports, interviews, followup calls, and video observation to find out what kids are doing these days and when. It turns out that Glenn, Kurzban, and Raine (and others) may be onto something when it comes to life history strategies (LHS) and the idea of a “fast” and “slow” life history strategies.
From the research, the authors were able to come up with three main findings: First, they explain individual differences as a predictor for sexual activity. They found externalization was a strong predictor for males, while delinquency was a more accurate predictor for girls. Families with two biological parents had better monitoring, but they failed to find any association with family structure. (Previous research had suggested the number of family transitions could be a predictor, but this study had a disproportionate number of single parent and blended families, so this couldn’t be determined.)
Secondly, they found associations between the factors previous mentioned and their high-risk sample. Early puberty, the researchers believe, shows a link because it leads to an early association with older peers and more deviant peer involvement. They hypothesize that this is particularly poignant for early pubescent females due to their desire for attention from older, sexually active males. Parental monitoring was the only parental factor showing a connection. However, this shows it’s a strong connection because, in this study, assessment was done prior to their first sexual experience.
Lastly, since this experiment included research prior to participants engaging in sex, French and Dishion were able to verify the findings of previous research and eliminate the theory that the associations were due to errors in retrospective self-report measures. As such, it strengthens the idea that antisocial and problem behaviour, low parental monitoring, and deviant peer involvement are causal features in the appearance of early sexual invitation and delinquency. And when comparing these findings to theories by Glenn, Kurzban, and Raine (2011), it makes sense.
Children at a Tipping Point
While we can’t determine the genetic factors of these participants, we can look at life history strategies and the idea of the environment acting as a trigger that switches from slow to fast strategies. Rather than emphasizing the idea of scarcity and stress being the trigger, however, it suggests the tipping point is culture, society, and socialization combined with the family environment.
It could also explain the Moffitt and Caspi theory that child-onset antisocial behaviour tend to become life course persistent offenders, while adolescent onset antisocial individuals tend to desist as they get older. By experiencing low parental monitoring and other factors associated with antisocial behaviour and early sexual initiation, it would be more a part of the individual’s identity. It would also make sense that these individuals would lack the skills and structures to exhibit consistent prosocial behaviour. An idea that seems to fit with behaviours noticed as you examine American inner city life. Alice Goffman’s On the Run is a good example of this.