Adolescents' perceptions of maternal disapproval of sex: Relationship to sexual outcomes

Patricia J. Dittus, James Jaccard

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose: To examine the relationship between adolescents' perceptions of maternal abstinence attitudes, adolescent-maternal relationship satisfaction, and the occurrence in the ensuing 12 months of: (a) sexual intercourse, (b) the use of birth control at intercourse, and (c) the occurrence of pregnancy. We also examined the accuracy of adolescents in perceiving the attitudes of their mothers as well as factors that predicted underestimations of these attitudes. Finally, the study evaluated the relative predictive power of adolescent perceptions of maternal abstinence attitudes and the actual maternal abstinence attitudes. Methods: This was a prospective study using a subsample of the Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health database, which is a nationally representative school-based sample. The sample for the present study was approximately 10,000 adolescents in grades 7 to 11 who completed 2 interviews in their homes at a 1-year interval. Mothers of the adolescents were interviewed only during Wave 1. Interviews covered a variety of topics, including adolescent risk behaviors and family relationships. Measures at Wave 1 were used to predict outcomes at Wave 2, employing logistic and multiple regression techniques. Results: Adolescents' perceptions of maternal attitudes toward the adolescents' engaging in sexual intercourse, and adolescent satisfaction with the maternal relationship were predictive of the occurrence of sexual intercourse between Wave 1 and Wave 2, as well as the occurrence of pregnancy. The more disapproving adolescents perceived their mothers to be toward their engaging in sexual intercourse and the more satisfied adolescents were with their relationship with their mothers, the less likely adolescents were to initiate sexual activity or to become pregnant. Only relationship satisfaction was predictive of the use of birth control, such that more satisfied adolescents were more likely to use birth control at their most recent intercourse. The correlation between adolescent perceptions of maternal abstinence attitudes and actual maternal attitudes was .26. Adolescent perceptions of maternal attitudes tended to be a more consistent predictor of outcomes than actual maternal attitudes. Conclusions: The results are consistent with a growing body of literature that suggests the importance of adolescents' perceptions of maternal attitudes in determining sexual risk behaviors. Adolescents may misperceive the attitudes of parents, suggesting the need for communication between parent and teen. Copyright (C) 2000 Society for Adolescent Medicine.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)268-278
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Adolescent Health
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2000


  • Adolescents
  • Maternal attitudes
  • Pregnancy
  • Relationship satisfaction
  • Sexual and contraceptive behavior

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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