Methods: Baseline data from 3 separate longitudinal group-randomized trials on HIV/STI/pregnancy prevention interventions were used to examine the extent to which romantic relationship characteristics and reasons for abstaining from sexual activity varied by geographic region. The studies represent middle school students from Northern California, Texas, and South Carolina. Survey items for the data presented herein were identical across the 3 studies. Relationship characteristics and abstinence reasons were analyzed using Chi-square with a conservative criterion value (p<.001).
Results: There were significant differences in student reports of ever having had a boy/girlfriend (CA – 69%; TX – 78%; SC – 81%; p<.001) and engaging in pre-sexual behaviors such as kissing (CA – 62%; TX – 63%; SC – 56%; p<.001). There were also differences in students’ reasons for abstaining from sex. For example, more than half of the students in the Texas and South Carolina samples (53% and 57%, respectively) reported “not wanting to have a bad reputation” as a reason for not having sex compared to 30% of students from the California sample (p<.001). Similarly, more than three-quarters of the students from the Texas and South Carolina samples (83% and 81%, respectively) indicated that they did “not want a baby right now” as a reason for abstaining from sexual activity, whereas just over half (57%) of students from the California sample endorsed this as a reason for not having sex (p<.001).
Conclusions: The results suggest that dating characteristics and reasons for not engaging in sexual activity differ by geographic region. Geographic region may be an important contextual factor to consider in designing STI/HIV and pregnancy prevention programs for young people. Furthermore, the results suggest that fully understanding young people’s reasons for abstaining from sexual activity may be important information to incorporate into new programs and interventions that aim to delay sexual debut as well as useful information for adapting existing programs to heighten regional relevance.