Gender, Mature Appearance, Alcohol Use, and Dating as Correlates of Sexual Partner Accumulation from Ages 16-26 Years

Melanie J. Zimmer-Gembeck, W. Andrew Collins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Purpose: To determine growth in sexual partnering from age 16-26 years, and to test whether biological and social factors launched these growth patterns. Methods: A prospective design was used. Participants were 176 young people (47% female) followed from birth to age 26 years. Sexual partnering was measured as the accumulated number of different sexual intercourse partners at ages 16, 19, 23, and 26 years. Physical appearance of maturity, alcohol use, and dating were measured at ages 13-16 via observations, interviews, and questionnaires. Results: Mature appearance at age 13 years, use of alcohol more than monthly at age 16, and a history of a steady romantic partner before age 16 were each associated with a greater number of sexual intercourse partners by age 16. However a more mature appearance, more frequent alcohol use, and greater dating involvement did not foreshadow a steeper accumulation of sexual partners between ages 16 and 26. Only gender had such a "growth" influence, with males accruing sexual partners more rapidly from the ages of 16-26 years when compared with females. Conclusions: Adolescents had accumulated a higher number of sexual partners by age 16 years when they looked older, drank alcohol more frequently, and were more involved with dating in early to middle adolescence. Also male gender was associated with accumulation of sexual partners more rapidly between ages 16 and 26 years, and there was little indication that the accumulation of different sexual partners had begun to slow by age 26 for the average participant.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)564-572
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Adolescent Health
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2008

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was funded by a grant to Byron Egeland, Alan Sroufe, and W. Andrew Collins from the National Institute of Mental Health (R01 MH40864). We gratefully acknowledge the participants and their families for their extended and continuing commitment to this research.


  • Adolescent development
  • Dating
  • Emerging adulthood
  • Longitudinal studies
  • Peer relationships
  • Pubertal maturation
  • Sexual behavior
  • Substance use


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