Adolescent boys’ involvement in pregnancy and sexual risk behavior is a public health concern. Although research has identified predictors of sexual risk behavior during adolescence, few studies have investigated precursors to boys’ sexual risk behavior beginning in early childhood, the identification of which could serve to inform interventions and help reduce involvement in pregnancy. Our goal was to identify early developmental pathways associated with sexual risk behavior in a sample of low-income adolescent boys.


Data from a prospective longitudinal study in 310 at-risk boys were used to examine externalizing problems, mothers’ depressive symptoms, and low-nurturant parenting in early childhood (1.5, 2, and 3.5 years old) and daring, externalizing, parental monitoring, and deviant peer affiliation during emerging adolescence (11 and 12 years old) as precursors of sexual risk behavior between the ages 15 and 20 years. Structural equation modeling was used to explore pathways associated with later high-risk sexual behavior (HRSB).


In multivariate analyses, adolescent daring and deviant peer affiliation at age 12 were associated with later HRSB. Furthermore, deviant peer affiliation during emerging adolescence mediated the relationship between mothers’ depressive symptoms and nurturant parenting during early childhood and later adolescent HRSB.


Family-based risk factors in early childhood are predictive of HRSB in adolescence but are also influenced, and in some cases mediated, by relationships with peers and child characteristics during emerging adolescence.

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