Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Kay Snyder, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Alex Heckert, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Diane Shinberg, Ph.D.


This study used longitudinal analysis of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health to examine the effects of early sexual initiation and time since sexual initiation among female adolescents on levels of depressive symptomatology, self-esteem, body image, and disordered eating behaviors. The sample included all females interviewed at both wave 1 (1994-95) and wave 2 (1996) from the public-use dataset, resulting in a nationally representative sample of 2,385 female adolescents in grades 7-12. Scales for depressive symptomatology, levels of self-esteem, and distorted body image used previously validated measures, whereas the disordered eating behavior scale was created for this study. Analyses involving ordinary least squares and logistic regression used wave 1 and wave 2 to measure change in psychological outcomes over time. Controlling for wave 1 measures ultimately provided a more conservative test of the associations between early sexual initiation and psychological outcomes. As hypothesized, the study found a significant causal relationship between adolescent females initiating sex early and higher levels of depressive symptomatology. Females who initiated sex early and had higher levels of depressive symptomatology at wave 1 were likely to exacerbate their depressive symptoms after sexual intercourse. Still, female‘s level of depressive symptomatology decreased as the time since first sexual initiation increased. Early sexual initiation did not significantly impact levels of self-esteem, distorted body image, or disordered eating behaviors as hypothesized. In fact, adolescent females who initiated sex early had lower levels of disordered eating behaviors and a more positive body image, suggesting that adolescent females who had initiated sex were more satisfied with their bodies compared to peers who had not yet initiated sex. This study provided support for previous studies demonstrating that females who perceived themselves as maturing early experienced more negative psychological outcomes: higher levels of depressive symptomatology, more disordered eating behaviors, and greater odds of having a distorted body image. This study also confirmed the previous finding that the younger age at sexual initiation, the greater likelihood of sex being involuntary. Overall, this study underscores the importance of using longitudinal research to better understand the impact and implications of early sexual initiation among adolescent females.