Survival of the Abstinent Teen

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Creative Commons

Having a daughter who’s a “band nerd” may be music to a parent’s ear in more ways than one.

A new survey of 282 adolescent girls aged 12-21 reports that participation in band is significantly associated with current sexual abstinence.

The researchers came to the project with high hopes that potentially intervenable factors such as higher academic achievement, greater involvement in activities, and open family communication about sexual activity would be positively associated with abstinence.

That didn’t really play out, author and fourth-year medical student Kathryn Squires said at the recent meeting of the North American Society for Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology.

There was no difference in GPA, involvement in sports, or most curricular and non-school-related activities between sexually active and abstinent teens.

Sexual activity, however, was associated with the typical risk factors of age of at least 18 years, having a job, having an increased number of boyfriends or an older recent boyfriend, and risky peer behaviors.

Positive influences on abstinence in all age groups were: participation in band, participation in school clubs, having abstinent friends, and personal and peer avoidance of alcohol and drugs, reported Ms. Squires and her colleagues at Washington University in St. Louis.

So what is it about band that helps adolescents elect to remain sexually abstinent?

Was the study group somehow unique? Not likely. When surveyed during 2008-2009 at a scheduled gynecologic visit with her parent present, 68% of participants reported being abstinent. This falls roughly in line with the 2009 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey, in which 46% of high school females reported ever being sexually active.

Is it the music? Not likely. Marching bands, like the one at the University of Michigan, are side-stepping the likes of John Philip Sousa today in favor of such hipsters as Lady Gaga.

Is it the geek factor?

“We had a lot of other what could probably be considered geeky things on there, like the newspaper, and those didn’t seem to make a difference,” Ms. Squires said. (I take umbrage at this remark, but then I grew up thinking Woodward & Bernstein were cool.)

“Maybe band is just more involved, but then sports are more involved too, as far as practices. So I don’t think it’s the time commitment.”

Having had any number of band nerds in our house over the years, I asked my two college daughters about the finding. After the giggling stopped, they suggested that band members, quite simply, are a very tight-knit group of kids. I wouldn’t assign a P value to this anecdotal info, but there’s something to be said for having a posse of friends to turn to when an adolescent considers taking that first step toward sex.

For physicians disinclined to advise parents to push their kids towards the tuba or trombone, Ms. Squires points out that ages 15-17 appear to be a critical period in which teens value their parents’ opinion the most, and it makes the most difference in delaying sexual initiation. “So that might be a good time for parental involvement or a medical intervention,” she said.

That said, I’m not so sure there’s ever a bad time for parental involvement, but then I didn’t ask my girls about that.

By Patrice Wendling

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Filed under Family Medicine, IMNG, Obstetrics and Gynecology, Pediatrics, Primary care

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