Conceptual Models to Depict the Factors that Influence the Avoidance and Cessation of Sexual Risk Behaviors Among Youth

OPRE Research Brief #2020-02
Publisher: Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Feb 01, 2020
Katie Adamek, Alicia Meckstroth, Hande Inanc, Lindsay Ochoa, So O'Neil, Kim McDonald, and Heather Zaveri

This brief was developed as part of a portfolio of youth-focused projects on sexual risk avoidance and cessation sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The brief presents two initial, complementary conceptual models—one for sexual risk avoidance and a second for sexual risk cessation—that aim to guide efforts to prevent youth risk behaviors and promote optimal health. The models identify a range of factors that research shows may influence youth decision making, sexual behavior, and related outcomes. These influencing factors occur at the environmental, interpersonal, or individual level, and many can be modified through intervention. To this end, the models may be used to guide and support efforts to develop and refine programs, tailor educational messages to youth, and empower parents and other adults to help youth avoid or cease sexual and non-sexual risk behaviors. In particular, the sexual risk cessation conceptual model is supporting the development of a sexual risk cessation program model and related supplemental curriculum module, intended to help sexually-experienced youth avoid sexual activity in the future.

Key Findings:

  • The conceptual model for sexual risk avoidance identified environmental, interpersonal, and individual factors that influence behavioral outcomes related to sexual risk avoidance. Environmental factors include use of and exposure to Internet pornography, neighborhood poverty, and availability of sexual health education programs. Interpersonal factors include connectedness to parents, risky peer behavior, and having an older boyfriend or girlfriend. Individual factors include early puberty or physical development, negative self-perception or body objectification, academic achievement, and alcohol and drug use.

  • The conceptual model for sexual risk cessation also identified environmental, interpersonal, and individual factors that influence related behavioral outcomes. Examples of factors include media exposure (environmental), living with two biological parents at age 14, higher parental education, risky peer behavior, and partner expectations and intentions to have sex (interpersonal), and community engagement and negative self-perception or body objectification (individual).

  • There are similarities and differences between the sexual risk avoidance and sexual risk cessation conceptual models. More factors are associated with sexual risk avoidance outcomes than sexual risk cessation outcomes. Factors at the individual level are most prevalent for both sexual risk avoidance and cessation. The role of parents and family is more pronounced for sexual risk avoidance than for sexual risk cessation.
Senior Staff

Katie Adamek
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Lindsay Ochoa
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Hande Inanc
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Alicia Meckstroth
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So O'Neil
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Heather Zaveri
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