Examining intersectionality theory and adolescent motivations to engage in risky sexual behavior


Poindexter, Brittney (2013). Examining intersectionality theory and adolescent motivations to engage in risky sexual behavior.


Intersectionality theory explores the ways in which multiple axes of identity combine to determine one's socio-cultural location and how these intersections contribute to unique experiences of oppression and social privilege. This thoery contends that social inequalities by way of marginalized race, gender and socioeconomic statuses (SES) have the potential to uncover and explicate existing health disparities. The primary objective of the current study was to explore the implications of multiple potentially marginalized statuses with relation to sexual behavior motivations. Overall, this study hypothesized that endorsement of multiple statuses would significantly predict an adolescent's motivations to engage in risky sexual behavior. Teh intersectionailty principle of 'multiple jeopardy' is applied to self-reported sexual motivations through exploration of the intersections between race (R), gender (G), and socioeconomic status (SES).
A nationally representative sample was used to examine the research questions. The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health) data set was limited to respondents that reported ever having had sexual intercourse (N=2,562), between the ages of 15 and 21. This population is of particular interest considering its perpetual involvement in sexual risk-taking behavior and the dearth of research focused on understanding sexual motivation among this age group. Multiple regression and structural modeling methods were used to assess the relationships between single, 2-way (GxR, GxSES, RxSES), and 3-way interaction (GxRxSES) variables and the latent constructs of social and physical motivation. Regression analyses revealed several significant pathways; although R2 values were relatively low for each analysis. Three structural models were compared and Model 2 was found to have the most adequate model fit: X2 (13, N=1053) = 33.626, p<.001, CFI=.991, RMSEA=.039, 90% CI [.023, .055], however none of hypothesized paths were significant. Not all findings were consistent with the predictions of intersectionality theory. This study was limited by the inability to ascertain whether or not individuals who endorsed potentially marginalized statuses, also endorsed a marginalized life experience, experienced discrimination or feelings of powerlessness. Nevertheless, findings from this study can further research on the topic of intersectionality and broaden the discussion of social inequities and oppression as they relate to sexual risk motivation that may lead to risky sexual behavior and negative health outcomes.



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Poindexter, Brittney

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Master of Arts




University of Rhode Island

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