Paternity risk among adolescent males

Freya L. Sonenstein, Joseph H. Pleck, Leighton C. Ku

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

3 Scopus citations


Even though there is little supportive evidence, teenage males in the United States are typically stereotyped as being sexually very active and irresponsible. Terms such as "sexual adventurer" or "roving inseminator" have been used to describe a prototypical young male who pursues sexual conquests to demonstrate his virility and prowess (Sorensen 1973; Wattenberg 1990). I Although some young men undoubtedly fit this mold, a critical question is, How widespread is this behavior? This chapter looks at what is actually known about the sexual behavior of young men in the United States. Presenting information from a nationally representative survey of males ages 15-19 years of age about their levels of sexual activity, contraceptive use, and experience with pregnancies, it examines trends over time and factors associated with paternity risk. Since sexual intercourse is a necessary precursor to pregnancy and paternity, the characteristics of young men engaging in early sexual activity without contraceptives are important in identifying adolescents at risk of becoming fathers. Until recently, however, little information was available (Sonenstein 1986; Study Group on the Male Role in Teenage Pregnancy and Parenting 1990). Almost two decades of research on the causes and consequences of pregnancy among adolescents had primarily focused on females (Chilman 1983; Hayes 1987; Miller and Moore 1990; Moore and Burt 1982). Service and policy interventions had also largely ignored the obvious contribution of males to the scope of the adolescent pregnancy problem. Recently, however, several program and policy initiatives have explicitly targeted young men. Youth agencies like the Urban League and the Boys Clubs have initiated programs promoting responsible sexual behavior among adolescent males (Dryfoos 1990). The Family Support Act of 1988 has made paternity establishment to obtain financial support for children born out of wedlock a key piece of welfare reform. Finally, the recognition that AIDS poses a major risk for sexually active teenagers has led schools and health agencies to educate both young men and young WOlnen about safer sexual practices including condom use. Unfortunately, the knowledge base which should underlie these recent policy and program initiatives has not been developed. Since 1971 the periodic collection of nationally representative data from young women has documented a dramatic increase in sexual activity and pregnancies. 2 Although no one disputes that teenage males have contributed to this trend, only two studies, one in 1979 (Zelnik and Kantner 1980) and one in 1988 (Sonenstein, Pleck, and Ku 1989), can be used to assess changes over time in male sexual behavior. At the national level, other surveys have collected information about fertility behavior of young men and women,-' but because of methodological differences, their results cannot be used comparatively to track trends across time. Several excellent ethnographic and clinical studies have also examined aspects of fertility behavior among groups of young men living in particular neighborhoods or communities (Anderson 1989; Hendricks and Montgomery 1983; Sullivan 1989; and Wattenberg, Brewer, and Resnik 1991 ).4 Such studies provide an in-depth understanding of how these particular young men view sex, pregnancy, and fatherhood; but it is potentially misleading to attribute their attitudes and behaviors to American young men in general. 5 Data from representative samples are needed to test whether these attitudes and behaviors are prevalent among a wider group of young men.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationYoung Unwed Fathers
Subtitle of host publicationChanging Roles and Emerging Policies
PublisherTemple University Press
Number of pages18
ISBN (Print)1566393183, 9781566393188
StatePublished - Dec 1 2009
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences(all)


Dive into the research topics of 'Paternity risk among adolescent males'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this