Is there a relationship between perceptions of family functioning and the initiation of sexual activity?

     Human sexuality develops from the moment of conception onward through all life stages, and it is affected by all of one’s experiences. It is also affected by the period in which one is born as well as a person’s heritage. Multigenerational family and social systems, which are in continuing interaction with each other, are related to a person’s development as a feminine or masculine human being. The sexual development of adolescents is heavily influenced by many factors in their infancy and childhood. Children are observed to exhibit sexual interests and feelings, but how these interests and feelings are expressed is a result of many factors including the nature of the family system. In both overt and covert ways, almost every activity and relationship within families tramsmits messages regarding sexuality and dealing with sex roles and functions, values, and styles of interpersonal relationships. Family relationships are extremely important and operate on many levels of awareness in total human development, including the development of sexuality at many life stages. Knowing the dynamics of the adolescent’s family is essential to the understanding of adolescent decision making because of the family’s early influence on belief systems and behavior. Family function is how the family behaves towards one another and the quality of the relationships. It is thought to be the most important component in determining “family health”. Family problems is part of a web of social problems that influence the development of many potential health problems.

     The family should be recognized as a potentially important sphere to be considered and incorporated into multi-targeted prevention programs for the reduction of sexual risk in young women. According to Blum’s Model, a person’s sexual activities and their family interaction status directly affects a person’s health status. One way to look at family functioning is through family systems theory. This theory helps us to understand how families operate. “Systems theory is useful in explaining the complex interactions of a family and the factors that influence the processes by which a family makes decisions, sets and achieves particular goals, and establishes rules that regulate behavior. The theory also explains how a family responds to chnage, including developmental changes in family members” (Bigner, 1998, p.93). An adolescent’s perception of family functioning may be related to their initiation of sexual activity. That’s why analysis of family functioning is so critical. Various kinds of family services may be helpful to families who are dealing with stresses of transition at midstage. These stresses could include depressive reactions of a parent or parents, marital conflicts, sex equity issues, financial pressures, and so on. Helping adults in the family deal with their own stresses could greatly reduce the need for direct services to adolescents whose own problems may dwindle as parental lives improve.  There is strong possibiliy that parents suggest either verbally or through their behavior that early sexual activity is either acceptable or unacceptable. Demographic and socioeconomic studies have linked early sexual activity with factors such as family economic disadvantage, large famy size, and an unstable family environment. It is important to consider maternal and family characteristics and behavior that occurs after the child is born but before his or her initiation of sexual activity.


Bigner, J. (1998). Parent-Child Relations, Columbus: Prentice Hall.

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