Negotiating Desire: Gender, Intercourse, and Depression in Adolescent Romantic Couples

Lori A. Burrington, Pennsylvania State University
Derek Kreager, Pennsylvania State University
Dana Haynie, Ohio State University

Extant research provides evidence of an association between early sexual initiation and adolescent girls’ depression, but the mechanisms underlying this association remain unclear. In this study, we examine the sex-depression association in 419 couples from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. We argue that gender differences in the meaning and socialization toward sexual desire and romance result in relational asymmetries where girls are uncomfortable with intercourse and boys are motivated to secure sex. In this context, girls lacking the desire for sex may comply or be coerced into intercourse and then experience increased depression due to the asymmetry between their preconceived expectations and actual behavior. Results primarily support this pattern. Girls are less likely to experience sexual desire and more likely to experience depression if they have sex without desire. Implications of these findings for feminist theories and adolescent health research will be discussed.

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Presented in Poster Session 5