Developmental Assets Linked to Sexual Behavior Among American Indians

First published online:

| DOI: https://doi.org/10.1363/47e6215

American Indian youth who report various developmental assets—personal strengths and resources available through families and communities—during adolescence are less likely than others to say that they engage in risky sexual behavior as young adults, according to results of a study based on data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health).1 Moreover, the greater the cumulative number of assets, the better the outcomes.

To build on research that has used cross-sectional data to examine risky sexual behavior among American Indian youth, analysts used data from two waves of Add Health: Wave 1, conducted in 1994–1995, when respondents were 12–16 years old; and Wave 3, conducted in 2001–2002, when they were aged 18–23. At Wave 1, participants provided information on 11 personal, family, school, peer and community assets; at Wave 3, they answered questions on their age at first intercourse, lifetime number of partners and frequency of condom use within the past year. The analysts explored associations between assets and these sexual behavior outcomes using logistic, negative binomial and linear regression, respectively.

The sample consisted of 456 youth. At Wave 1, they were about 14 years old, on average, and were evenly divided by gender; roughly half lived in a household with two parents. Three-quarters attended schools in urban or suburban areas, and the rest in rural areas (excluding reservations, where Add Health did not sample any schools). On average, participants scored high (above the midpoint of the scale) on 10 of the 11 assets; the exception was that they reported frequent unstructured socializing, a behavior that is considered risky for early adolescents. Wave 3 reports ­indicated that 24% had had first sex by age 15 (which the analysts categorized as early sexual debut), participants’ average number of sexual partners to date was 6.6 and respondents who had had intercourse within the past year had used condoms about half the time.

In models controlling for background characteristics and developmental assets, the likelihood of early sexual debut was negatively associated with respondents’ Wave 1 reports of their self-control (odds ratio, 0.6), satisfaction with communication with their parents (0.6), sense of connectedness to their school (0.7) and number of "nondeviant" close friends (i.e., ones who did not engage in behaviors such as smoking daily—0.5). Lifetime number of sexual partners was also negatively associated with self-control, school attachment and number of nondeviant friends, as well as with family support during adolescence (incidence rate ratios, 0.7–0.8). Frequency of condom use during young adulthood was positively associated with Wave 1 reports of family support and the extent to which youth had felt that adults in the community cared about them (coefficient, 0.2 for each).

The cumulative number of developmental assets was associated with each of the three outcomes. The greater the number of assets, the lower the likelihood of early sexual debut (odds ratio, 0.5) and the lifetime number of partners (incidence rate ratio, 0.8), and the greater the frequency of condom use in the past year (coefficient, 0.2).

Noting that the sample was not representative of American Indian youth nationwide and that data limitations precluded examination of how developmental assets changed between survey waves and how such changes may be related to sexual behavior, the analysts characterize their results as "intriguing, but exploratory." In that vein, they conclude that their findings support the use of a developmental assets framework to ­identify "the internal strengths and external supports that help [American Indian] youth make healthy choices and avoid risky sexual behavior." Indeed, they write that "fostering assets may be especially important for racial/ethnic minorities such as American Indians who have been historically marginalized, oppressed, and problematized by the scientific community."

D. Hollander


1. Greene KM, Eitle D and Eitle TM, Developmental assets and risky sexual behaviors among American Indian youth, Journal of Early Adolescence, 2015, doi: 10.1177/0272431615596427.