Early sexual debut among adolescent girls may result in teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. In sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), pregnancy among adolescent girls may adversely impact the continuation of their education, general health status, and birth outcomes. However, few cross-national studies have examined the role that the social environment plays in adolescent girls’ sexual behaviors in SSA. In this study, we explored adolescent girls’ social environment and the impact on their sexual behaviors..
The country selection was based on availability of Global School-Based Student Health Survey (GSHS) national data (2003–2015). The total analytic sample was 22,067 adolescent girls from 12 countries in SSA. Descriptive statistics were generated to determine the characteristics of adolescent girls and independent samples t-test analysis were performed to determine whether there were differences between the social environment and age of sexual debut and sexual partners. Logistic regression models were used to determine the association between adolescent girls’ social environment and sexual debut.
The study results showed variations across the 12 countries. Almost one in five (19.9%) adolescent girls reported to have ever engaged in sexual intercourse. Their mean age of sexual debut was 13.21 (13.04–13.37) years and mean number of sexual partners was 2.19 (2.08–2.29). We found that adolescent girls who reported not being connected with their parents were more likely to debut sex (aOR = 1.32, 95% CI, 1.14–1.53, p < 0.000). Parental monitoring was significantly associated with sexual debut but after controlling for the confounding variables (age, class grade and drug use), the association was no longer significantly positively associated. Adolescent girls who felt supported by their peers had a significantly higher number of sexual partners than those who did not feel supported by their peers.
The social environment of adolescent girls plays a very important role in sexual debut, age of sexual debut, and the number of sexual partners. Sexual health policies targeting adolescent girls are likely to achieve positive impacts if they focus on improving parental connectedness and peer support.