Risk and resiliency: The untold story of youth in military families

Belinda Flores Hernandez, The University of Texas School of Public Health


Background: Risky sexual behaviors have been shown to increase the risk of unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) among youth. Youth in military families may be especially at risk for engaging in risky sexual behaviors because they are exposed to factors that are unique to the military culture, such as multiple relocations and parental deployment. However, data on sexual behaviors among military-dependent youth are limited and few studies have examined how these factors influence the sexual behaviors among youth. Purpose: The purpose of this dissertation was to estimate the prevalence of risky sexual behaviors among military-dependent youth and to describe how military factors may influence their sexual behaviors. Methods: Youth, aged 15–19 years, who attended a military health facility in the southern United States between June 2011 and September 2011 were recruited to complete a short, paper-based survey (N= 208, males and females) and to participate in an in-depth interview (N = 25, females). For quantitative data, prevalence estimates were computed and chi-square analyses were conducted. Logistic regression analyses were also conducted, adjusting for age, gender, and parents' duty status. For qualitative data, thematic coding of transcribed interviews was performed. Common and unique themes were examined across participants' experiences. Results: Over half of the youth was sexually experienced (53.7%). Parental deployment and number of relocations were significantly associated with having had sex in the past 3 months; however no significant associations were found between these military factors and other sexual behaviors. Although some youth felt that being a military-dependent had negatively impacted their sexual decisions, most believed the military experience had little influence on their sexual decisions. Most youth in military families also perceived having higher parental expectations to avoid risky behaviors, in general, than youth in civilian families. Conclusions: The majority of military-dependent youth are sexually experienced; however, individual and parental factors may have a greater role in sexual initiation among youth than military stressors do. The findings highlight the need for implementation of evidence-based strategies to prevent teen pregnancy and STIs at military installations. Future studies with larger sample sizes are needed to further explore how youth may cope with these military factors and the impact of parental factors on the sexual behaviors of youth.

Subject Area

Public health|Military studies

Recommended Citation

Hernandez, Belinda Flores, "Risk and resiliency: The untold story of youth in military families" (2012). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI3522161.