Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Family Consumer Human Development

Committee Chair(s)

Brent C. Miller


Brent C. Miller


Daniel Coster


Susan Crowley


Adolescents' perceptions and behaviors about romantic heterosexual relationships and sexual intercourse were compared among adolescents living with adoptive, bio logical, and stepparent s. Data come from The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health). In 1995, over 20,000 adolescents living throughout the United States completed a 90-minute in-home interview that asked numerous questions about romantic relationships and sexual behaviors. Add Health used a multi-stage cluster design to collect a random sample representative of adolescents attending U.S. schools.

Results showed that several demographic characteristics (gender, age, race/ethnicity, parent's education, and number of parents in the household) were associated with adolescents' perceptions and behaviors regarding romantic relationships and sexual intercourse. Descriptive mean comparisons not controlling for any demographic characteristics showed more similarities than differences between adopted and nonadopted adolescents' heterosexual relationship formation and sexual behaviors. A second set of descriptive mean comparisons, controlling for the influences of gender and number of parents in the home, showed more differences than similarities between adopted and nonadopted adolescents living in single-parent families. Adopted females reported many more experiences of rape and/or incest than non adopted females living in two-parent and single-parent families.

Multivariate regression analyses controlling for five demographic characteristics found more similarities than differences between adopted and nonadopted adolescents. Most Differences that were found were small in magnitude. Adopted males reported more idealism when asked to describe their ideal romantic relationships and more sexual activity when asked to describe their actual romantic relationships than nonadopted males. Adopted females were nearly three-and-a-half times more likely than biological females, and nearly two-and-a-halftimes more likely than stepfamily females to report forced sexual intercourse. Adopted females also reported more negative perceptions about the consequences associated with sexual intercourse than nonadopted females.

Findings about mediating concepts theorized to be the link between adopted adolescents' experiences and resultant outcomes were inconclusive. Findings overall showed that adopted and nonadopted adolescents' heterosexual relationship format ion and sexual behaviors were more similar than different. Differences that were found were most frequent among single-parent families and most substantial between adopted and nonadopted females' reports of forced sexual intercourse.