Does being smart in high school = less sex?

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To examine the relationship between an intelligence measure and a wide spectrum of partnered sexual activity ranging from holding hands to sexual intercourse among adolescents.


Analyses are based on two separate samples of adolescents. The core sample of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health) includes approximately 12,000 adolescents enrolled in the 7th to 12th grades. The Biosocial Factors in Adolescent Development projects followed approximately 100 white males and 200 black and white females over 3- and 2-year periods, respectively. Both studies used the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test (PPVT) as an intelligence measure, and confidential self-reports of sexual activity. Logistic regression models were used to examine the relationship between PPVT scores and coital status in Add Health data; proportional hazard models were used to examine the timing of initiation of noncoital and coital activities as a function of PPVT scores in the Biosocial Factors sample.


Controlling for age, physical maturity, and mother’s education, a significant curvilinear relationship between intelligence and coital status was demonstrated; adolescents at the upper and lower ends of the intelligence distribution were less likely to have sex. Higher intelligence was also associated with postponement of the initiation of the full range of partnered sexual activities. An expanded model incorporating a variety of control and mediator variables was tested to identify mechanisms by which the relationship operates.


Higher intelligence operates as a protective factor against early sexual activity during adolescence, and lower intelligence, to a point, is a risk factor. More systematic investigation of the implications of individual differences in cognitive abilities for sexual activities and of the processes that underlie those activities is warranted.

Source: “Smart teens don’t have sex (or kiss much either).” from J Adolesc Health. 2000 Mar;26(3):213-25. 

For more on sex and attraction: A Billion Wicked Thoughts: What the World’s Largest Experiment Reveals about Human Desire.

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