The association between the timing of sexual debut and young adult romantic relationships




Sullivan, Cassandra Laura

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This longitudinal study investigates whether the timing of sexual debut (early, on-time, or late, compared to one’s peers) is associated with young adult romantic relationship quality (i.e., overt and relational victimization, relational aggression, dating worries, and positive dating experiences) either directly or indirectly by moderating the relationship between trajectories of individual factors (internalizing symptoms, externalizing symptoms, and alcohol use) young adult romantic relationship quality. Participants were from a large, six-wave longitudinal study (N = 662, 48% males, M age at T1 = 15.5 years, SD = 1.9 years). I use multi-step regression models to estimate how sexual debut group moderates the association between individual factors and young adult romantic relationship experiences by estimating slopes and intercepts for individual factors and creating interaction terms to test the moderating effect of timing of sexual debut on the slopes and intercepts of individual factors. Gender differences are also investigated. Results indicate that early sexual debut is associated with higher baseline levels of individual factors and directly predicts negative relationship experiences in young adulthood. Early sexual debut moderates the relationship between baseline internalizing symptoms and negative dating experiences and dating worries in young adulthood. Findings also show that early sexual debut moderates the relationship between steeper increases in externalizing symptoms and negative dating experiences and dating worries. The results provide a better understanding of the longitudinal impacts of adolescent experiences on young adult relationship outcomes.



Sexual Debut, Romantic Relationships, Romantic Relationship Quality, Young Adulthood, Adolescence