In the second round of interviews, we also asked participants to compare sexual norms and behaviors from when they were in high school to those in college. In the first phase, 43 interviews were conducted by trained undergraduates in two upper-level Sociology classes in — Of the 57 college student participants, 47 30 women and 17 men came from mid- to higher SES backgrounds, defined as either of their parents having attained a college degree or holding a managerial or professional job. In other words, virgins were more successful at remaining virgins than sexually experienced teens were at having sex. In the second phase of data collection, we employed a purposive sampling strategy and conducted interviews that were somewhat longer and less structured. A defining feature of a social norm is the sanctioning that results from breaking it Marini, ; Settersten,
While pregnancy-related norms and behaviors are not the main focus of this study, the specter of pregnancy was clearly salient for participants and shaped sex and contraception norms, attitudes, and behaviors. After receiving training on conducting qualitative interviews, students were asked to recruit a college student acquaintance and interview her or him. Although virtually all teens perceived that most of their peers were having sex and that parents were almost universally against teen sex, some teens had sex and others did not. These teens, then, were negotiating competing norms from parents against sex and peers and close friends encouraging sex. Our findings demonstrate that teens who remained virgins and those who were sexually active during high school often negotiated different sets of competing norms. Neugarten and colleagues , p. The Study Our study draws on 47 in-depth qualitative interviews with college students at a large public university in the western United States about their experiences with sex, contraception, and pregnancy as teenagers. While virgins reported an individualized process of deciding whether they were ready for sex, we find that their behavior fits within a traditional understanding of an age norm because of the emphasis on avoiding negative sanctions. There is a great deal of regional variation, as participants attended high school in 15 different states. A highly visible consequence of teen sex, teen parenting, has been viewed as a major social problem in the U. For example, in a study of high school students, Gillmore and colleagues found that sexually experienced teens were more likely to base their intentions to have sex on their own attitudes, while virgins gave greater credence to social norms. Because we found that teen sex, contraception, and pregnancy norms and behaviors differed considerably by community SES and because many college-bound lower-SES teens reported feeling like anomalies in their communities, we focus here only on the higher-SES group, drawn from both the first and second phase of interviews. Of the 57 college student participants, 47 30 women and 17 men came from mid- to higher SES backgrounds, defined as either of their parents having attained a college degree or holding a managerial or professional job. As in many other areas of sociology, the interactional level has been relatively neglected Emirbayer, In other words, virgins were more successful at remaining virgins than sexually experienced teens were at having sex. These studies all stopped short of examining the influence of both close friends and other peers. Age norms, sexual behavior, teenage sex, adolescence, communication, parental and peer influences 1. Yet, few scholars have investigated how social norms are translated into behavioral change Kinsman, et al. In this study we focus primarily on the interactional level, investigating the relative influence of three reference groups: In another study, Nahom and colleagues found that sexually experienced teens felt significantly more pressure to engage in sex and perceived that significantly more of their friends were having sex than did virgins. A defining feature of a social norm is the sanctioning that results from breaking it Marini, ; Settersten, This in-depth information is intended to inform future research using larger, more representative samples across contexts. We did not set out to compare teens who were virgins throughout high school with those who were sexually active; rather, this distinction emerged inductively as fundamental for understanding norms and communication about teen sex. This sample composition was a little less diverse than the student population from which it was drawn, but it reflects the demographics of the vast majority of students at this university. Sexually experienced teens, on the other hand, explicitly reported abiding by a group age norm that prescribed sex as normal during high school. Previous research has found no clear relationship between parental norms and communication about sex and teen sexual behavior Whitaker and Miller During recruiting, students were asked whether they were first-generation college students or came from a rural or poor community.
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