Adolescent Sexual Development and Peer Groups: Reciprocal Associations and Shared Genetic and Environmental Influences

D. Angus Clark, C. Emily Durbin, Mary M. Heitzeg, William G. Iacono, Matt McGue, Brian M. Hicks

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Peer groups influence the emergence of sexual behaviors in adolescence, but many details regarding the mechanisms underlying these effects have yet to be described. We examined the phenotypic, genetic, and environmental links between both antisocial and prosocial peer characteristics, and several sexual behaviors from middle childhood to late adolescence (ages 11, 14, and 17 years) using a longitudinal twin sample (N = 3762). Antisocial peers predicted greater engagement in both normative (e.g., dating) and non-normative (e.g., early sexual intercourse) sexual behaviors, while prosocial peers were associated with a lower likelihood of engaging in non-normative sexual behaviors. Reciprocal effects were also observed such that early sexual experiences were associated with a more antisocial and less prosocial peer groups later in adolescence. Behavioral genetic models indicated that most of the overlap between peer group characteristics and sexual behavior was due to shared environmental influences. That is, some features of the adolescent environment exert a press toward (or against) antisocial peers and sexual behaviors. Together, the results extend the existing literature by highlighting the ways through which peer affiliations are related to sexual development in adolescence.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)141-160
Number of pages20
JournalArchives of sexual behavior
Issue number1
StatePublished - Apr 20 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by United States Public Health Service grants R01 AA09367 (McGue), R01 AA024433 (Hicks), and T32 AA007477 (F. Blow) from the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and R37 DA005147 (Iacono), R01 DA013240 (Iacono), and R01 DA039112 (Durbin) from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020, Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature.


  • Adolescence
  • Behavior genetics
  • Heritability
  • Peer behavior
  • Sexual behavior
  • Shared environmental influences


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