Background: Research finds a strong association between substance use and risky sexual behavior but more needs to be known about this relationship. Few studies have examined this relationship among rural sixth- to eighth-grade students. As such, the purposes of this study were to provide a descriptive profile of rural sixth- to eighth-grade students’ substance use behavior and sexual activity and to examine the relationship between substance use behaviors and sexual activity.
Methods: Participants consisted of a convenience sample of 10,273 middle school students (sixth to eighth grade) attending 10 public schools in rural Tennessee. The middle school Youth Risk Behavior Survey was administered to these students during April and May 2004.
Results: Analysis found that a large percentage of students had tried cigarettes, alcohol, and inhalants. Additionally, it was found that sexual intercourse had been initiated by 18.8% of females and 25.4% of males. Of those students who reported ever having had sexual intercourse, 75% had reported the use of cigarettes and alcohol. In addition, approximately 50% of those students reported marijuana and inhalant use.
Conclusions: The results suggest that substance use behavior has a relationship with the likelihood of initiating sexual activity. Additional longitudinal research with this population will be needed for explaining whether these select substance use behaviors are probable risk factors predisposing young rural adolescents to report engaging in sexual behaviors or a result of other factors.