Sexual behaviour in early adolescence: A cross-national comparison of Australian and United States youth

Laura E. Prendergast, Rachel K. Leung, John W. Toumbourou, Angela Taft, Barbara J. McMorris, Richard F. Catalano

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Objective: This study used matched samples from schools in the states of Victoria and Washington to compare sexual behaviour in early adolescence. It was hypothesised that the contrasting dominant policy objectives of harm minimisation in Australia and abstinence in the USA would result in state differences for markers of sexual risk, mirroring prior cross-national findings in substance use. Method: A two-stage cluster sampling approach was used to recruit students from the two states. Self-reported sexual behaviour was examined for 1,596 students in annual surveys from Grade 7 in 2002 to Grade 9 in 2004. Prevalence estimates were derived for each measure of sexual behaviour, and comparisons were made between gender groups in each state. Results: State differences were found for girls’ first sex, with significantly more girls in Washington than Victoria having had sex by Grade 7. By Grade 9, significantly more girls in Victoria reported sex in the last year and more sexual partners than girls in Washington. A large proportion of Grade 9 students across both states reported inconsistent contraception use. Conclusions: Contradicting the abstinence policy objective, first sex by Grade 7 was more prevalent in Washington than in Victoria. While sexual behaviour was more prevalent in Grade 9 in Victoria, the sexually active showed no clear cross-national differences in markers of risk such as contraception use and pregnancy outcomes. Findings demonstrate few cross-national differences in adolescent sexual behaviour despite the different policy contexts of Victoria and Washington.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3-11
Number of pages9
JournalAustralian Journal of Psychology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 The Australian Psychological Society


  • adolescent development
  • cross-national
  • problem behaviour theory
  • sexual behaviour
  • sexual initiation


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