Teens from Religious Families Engage in Less Risky Behavior

Washington, DC—Teens from more religious families wait longer before having sex; this is due, in part, to higher levels of family cohesion in more religious families and teen involvement with friends who engage in positive behaviors.  However, males in more religious families are less likely to use contraception consistently, according to a new Child Trends study, “Pathways from Family Religiosity to Adolescent Sexual Activity and Contraceptive Use,”  published in the June issue of Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health.


Among the study’s findings:

  • The connection between increased family religiosity and lower levels of teen sexual activity is due, in part, to stronger parent-child relationships, higher parental monitoring and awareness of where the child is, and more routine family activities, such as eating dinner together regularly.

o        These elements of family cohesion can help reduce risky teen sexual behavior regardless of family religiosity.

  • Sexually active male teens from more religious families are less likely to use contraceptives consistently.

o        This suggests the importance of providing dual messages to teens—messages that convey the importance of abstaining from sex, but that also highlight the need for contraception if they become sexually active.

  • For girls, being from a more religious family is indirectly linked with having fewer sexual partners and greater contraceptive consistency, through a later age at first sex, more positive peer environments and higher levels of parental monitoring and awareness.

o        Thus, the benefits of delaying sex include not only reduced exposure to the risk of pregnancy and STDs but also greater contraceptive use among teens who have sex at a later age.


“This study shows the importance of parents who are involved in their children’s lives and know who their children’s friends are,” said Jennifer Manlove, Ph.D., lead author of the study.  “Parents who monitor their children’s activities and peer environments, who engage their families in regular activities, and who foster strong parent-child relationships can help reduce risky sexual behaviors, regardless of family religiosity.”


Among the study’s implications:

  • Pregnancy and STD-prevention programs that include parental involvement components—especially those emphasizing the protective role of strong parent-teen relationships, family activities, and parental monitoring and awareness—may help reduce rates of teen pregnancy and STDs.

The study, by Jennifer Manlove, Cassandra Logan, Kristin A. Moore and Erum Ikramullah, is based on the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, a nationally representative survey of youth who were ages 12-17 when first interviewed in 1997.


Child Trends is a nonprofit, nonpartisan research center that studies children at every stage of development.  Its mission is to improve outcomes for children by providing research, data, and analysis to the people and institutions whose decisions and actions affect children.