Methods: The data for this study were drawn from a longitudinal group-randomized trial of a relationship-based HIV/STI/pregnancy prevention program. Students completed a self-report survey using hand-held devices in fall of 7th grade, spring of 7th grade and spring of 8th grade. Multilevel logistic regression models were used to assess the individual path effects of perceptions of peer norms regarding sexual behavior on lying, and the effects of lying on sexual experience. Mediation analysis was conducted using the product of standardized coefficients and Sobel test.
Results: Lying about sexual experience in the fall of 7th grade was a statistically significant (p=.01) mediator of the effect of peer norms on initiation of sex by the end of 7th grade, accounting for 13.2% of the total effect. Lying about sexual experience in spring of 7th grade was no longer a statistically significant mediator of the effect of peer norms on initiation of sex in spring of 8th grade (p=.23, 4.5% mediated effect).
Conclusions: These results suggest that messages on the effects of lying about one’s sexual experience might provide an additional leverage point for interventions focused on correcting perceived norms about peer sexual experience in order to reduce sexual risk-taking in middle school students. They also suggest that 7th grade may be an important developmental time point for such interventions, when adolescents appear to be more susceptible to these external (perceived peer norms) and internal (resolving dissonance about one’s actual and reported sexual activity) pressures.