CONTEXT: Little research links adolescent risk behaviors to reproductive health outcomes beyond adolescence, although young adults—men and women in their early 20s— bear a disproportionate burden of STDs and unintended childbearing.
METHODS: To assess whether individuals who engaged in risk behaviors during adolescence had increased risk of negative reproductive health outcomes in young adulthood, data from Waves 1–4 of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health on 5,798 sexually active respondents were analyzed. Logistic and multinomial logistic regressions examined associations between risk behaviors (cumulatively and individually) and each of three outcomes.
RESULTS: Four in 10 youth reported at least three risk factors during adolescence. Women who were exposed to an increasing number of risks had an elevated likelihood of having had multiple sex partners in the last year, rather than none (relative risk ratio, 1.3); having had an STD (odds ratio, 1.1); and having had an intended or unintended birth, as opposed to no birth (relative risk ratio, 1.1 for each). Inconsistent contraceptive use and having had multiple partners, a nonmonogamous partner or a nonromantic partner were associated with reporting multiple partners in the last year; inconsistent use, sexual debut after age 16 and not discussing contraception with a partner were associated with having any birth.
CONCLUSIONS: Teenagers’ sexual behaviors have both short-term and long-term consequences, and interventions that focus on multiple domains of risk may be the most effective in helping to promote broad reproductive health among young adults.