CONTEXT: Few studies with nationally representative longitudinal data have examined whether and how family religiosity is associated with adolescent sexual and contraceptive behavior.

METHODS: Data from the 1997 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth were used to examine associations between a multidimensional measure of family religiosity assessed during early adolescence and reproductive health outcomes (sexual activity, number of partners and consistent contraceptive use) at age 17. Pathways through which family religiosity is associated with these outcomes were identified using structural equation models.

RESULTS: Family religiosity was negatively associated with adolescent sexual activity, both directly (beta, −0.14) and indirectly (−0.02). The indirect association was mediated by family cohesion (as reflected in parental monitoring among the entire sample and among males, and in parent-teenager relationship quality and family routine activities among females) and negative peer behaviors. Greater family religiosity was indirectly associated with having fewer sexual partners (−0.03) and with using contraceptives consistently (0.02); these relationships were mediated through later age at first sex, more positive peer environments and higher levels of parental monitoring and awareness. However, among sexually active males (but not females), family religiosity was directly and negatively associated with contraceptive consistency (−0.11).

CONCLUSION: Cohesive family environments and positive peer networks contribute to reduced levels of risky sexual behavior among adolescents from religious families. Parents who monitor their children’s activities and peer environments, engage their families in regular activities and foster strong parent-child relationships can help reduce risky sexual behavior, regardless of family religiosity. Parental involvement in prevention programs may help reduce rates of teenage pregnancy and STDs.