The Effect of Birth Order on Sexual Attitudes and Behaviors
Sponsored by Missouri Western State University Sponsored by a grant from the National Science Foundation DUE-97-51113
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The proper APA Style reference for this manuscript is:
MENKE, A. M., & BOYER, M. L. (2002). The Effect of Birth Order on Sexual Attitudes and Behaviors. National Undergraduate Research Clearinghouse, 5. Available online at http://www.webclearinghouse.net/volume/. Retrieved October 18, 2017 .

The Effect of Birth Order on Sexual Attitudes and Behaviors
ANDY M. MENKE & MONICA L. BOYER
Missouri Western State University DEPARTMENT OF PSYCHOLOGY

Sponsored by: Brian Cronk (cronk@missouriwestern.edu)
ABSTRACT
In this study we were trying to determine whether or not a personís birth order had an effect on when that person first became sexually active and how sexually active that person was. In our study we included the birth orders of the first-born child, the middle child, the last-born child, and the only child. We believed that last-born children would start having sexual intercourse at an earlier age and also be more sexual active than their older siblings. To test our hypothesis out we handed out surveys to Psychology and Criminal Justice classes at Missouri Western State College, only recording the data if the person was age 19 to 25. We did find that the last-born children were more likely to have had sexual intercourse than were the other birth orders. It might be useful to investigate why last-born children are more likely to have sexual intercourse.

INTRODUCTION
Although birth order has been a widely studied topic it has not been used until recently to study sexual attitudes and behaviors. Sexual behaviors have become a very important topic recently due to the fact of teenage pregnancies and widespread cases of sexually transmitted diseases, including AIDS (Baumeister, 2001). It has also been shown that adolescents are engaging in sexual intercourse at ages as early as 13 or 14 (Lammers, Ireland, Resnick, & Blum, 2000). There have been many different ideas as to why adolescents are engaging in sexual behaviors at an earlier age, but one commonly overlooked idea is an individualís birth order. Alfred Adler suggested that an individualís personality is affected by his or her birth order (Horn & Turner, 1975). Therefore, birth order may have an effect on adolescents choosing to have sexual intercourse at an earlier age. There have been many studies done comparing children in different birth order positions to see if the position is related to sexual behaviors and attitudes. The data has proven to be very contradictory with some researchers showing that first born children become sexually active at an earlier age and other researchers showing that the last born children become sexually active at an earlier age. Birth order refers to the position into which a child is born, such as first-born, middle child, last-born, or only child. This can also be called chronological birth order (Billingham, Smith, & Keller, 1989). There is also a theoretical birth order, which Adler (as cited in Billingham, Smith, & Keller, 1989) feels is more important than the chronological birth order. The theoretical birth order, according to Adler, is a psychological position in which it is not important as to the position the child is born into but rather the situation that the child is born into and how the child interprets that situation. Therefore, it is important to look at theoretical birth order along with chronological birth order. Horn and Turner (1975) did a study in which data were collected from a home in Texas for unwed mothers. All of the women living there were Caucasian, therefore, the study did not have a representative sample of the population. They found that a higher percentage of first-born college women have sexual intercourse before marriage. These results agree with Douvan and Adelsonís (1966) suggestion that first-born children are more likely to assume the role of the adult sooner than their sibling counterparts. By assuming the adult role, the children are accepting the responsibility and the risks of being an adult, including having sexual intercourse. Rodgers (1992) has found evidence showing that last-born children have sexual intercourse at an earlier age than their sibling counterparts. However, they believe that sibling influence is the reason for this. They suggest that there are two types of sibling influence that will have an effect on the younger siblings. The first type of sibling influence is modeling, which involves looking to the older siblings as role models. The younger sibling first looks up to the older sibling and observes their behavior, and then tries to imitate that behavior. The behaviors that are being observed and imitated are not necessarily sexual behaviors. Nevertheless, if the older sibling is sexually active, than the younger sibling will see this, and become sexually active also. The problem arises when there is a wide age gap between the two siblings, such as 18 and 14 years old. The older sibling may not have become sexually active until the age of 18, but the 14-year-old sees this behavior and becomes sexually active at an earlier age than the older sibling. According to this theory, siblings of the same sex with wide age spacing should have the strongest modeling effects. The other type of sibling influence is opportunity (Rodgers, 1992). This involves older siblings creating sexual opportunities for their younger siblings. Older siblings provide the setting and potential partners for the younger siblings. This can occur if the older sibling takes the younger sibling to a party, thereby introducing the younger sibling to potential sexual partners. This idea suggests that siblings closer in age will be affected more by this than siblings with a wide age gap. If the age gap between the two children were 14 and 18, then the 14-year-old may not be allowed to socialize. The 18-year-old may not be willing to take the 14-year-old sibling out. Billingham, Smith, and Keller (1989) found that birth order, theoretical or chronological, does not have an influence on the sexual behaviors and attitudes among college students. They did, however, report differences in sexual attitudes and behaviors for men and women. Other researchers have also found differences in sexual attitudes and behaviors for men and women. Baumeister (2001) found that males are more likely to engage in casual sex than females. Casual sex refers to having sexual intercourse with a person when no commitment has been made. He also found that there are significant differences regarding masturbation between males and females, with males masturbating more frequently than females. Baumeister established that males tend to have an earlier age for onset of sexual behaviors than females. By doing this study we hope to clarify the relationship between birth order and sexual attitudes and behaviors. We predict that last-born children will be more liberal in their sexual attitudes and behaviors. This means that they will begin having sexual intercourse at an earlier age, believe that it is acceptable to engage in premarital sex, and have more sexual partners. We also predict that males in all birth order categories will be more sexually active than females and have more liberal sexual attitudes.


METHOD

PARTICIPANTS
There were a total of 91 participants in this study. The participants were 18 to 26 year old Psychology and Criminal Justice students at Missouri Western State College. There were a total of 26 males and 65 females in the study.

MATERIALS & PROCEDURE
We administered a survey (see Appendix) to Psychology and Criminal Justice classes at Missouri Western State College. We developed the survey ourselves asking demographic questions such as age, gender, and birth order first. We then asked questions about sexual behaviors and attitudes. We also provided an area at the end of the survey for additional comments. The surveys were administered in a way to ensure confidentiality.


RESULTS
A chi-square test of independence was calculated comparing the birth order and whether or not the participants have had sexual intercourse. A significant interaction was found (chi-square (3) = 11.924, p < .05). Last-born children were more likely to have had sexual intercourse (91.7%) than first-born children (73.9%), middle children (75.0%), or only children (37.5%). A chi-square test of independence was calculated comparing gender and whether or not having more than one sexual partner at a time is acceptable. A significant interaction was found (chi-square (1) = 17.759, p < .05). Males were more likely to be accepting of more than one sexual partner at a time (52.0%) than females (10.8%). The four birth order groupís number of sexual partnersí means was compared using a one-way ANOVA. No significant difference was found (F (3,63) = .036, p < .05). The participants in the four different birth orders did not differ significantly in the number of sexual partners they have had. A chi square test of independence was calculated comparing gender and whether or not the participants have had sexual intercourse. No significant relationship was found (chi-square (1) = .026, p < .05). Gender and whether or not a person has had sexual intercourse appear to be independent events. A chi square test of independence was calculated comparing birth order and whether or not oral sex is acceptable. No significant relationship was found (chi-square (6) = 9.446, p < .05). Birth order and whether or not oral sex is acceptable appear to be independent events.


DISCUSSION
Our results partially supported our hypothesis that last-born children would have more liberal sexual attitudes and behaviors. Last-born children were more likely to have had sexual intercourse than the other birth order groups. However, last-born children were not more likely to start having sexual intercourse at an earlier age. They were also not any more liberal in their sexual beliefs and attitudes than were the other birth orders. Our results also partially supported our hypothesis that males would have more liberal sexual attitudes and behaviors than females. Although more males believed it was acceptable to have more than one sexual partner at a time, there was no difference between males and females on any of the other items on the survey. In general, our results agree with Rodgers (1992) who found that last-born children start to have sexual intercourse at an earlier age due to sibling influence. Our results indicate that last-born children are more likely to have had sexual intercourse. We also believe that last-born children are more likely to have had sexual intercourse due to sibling influence. Our results are also consistent with those of Billingham, Smith, and Keller (1989) and Baumeister (2001) who found that there are differences in sexual attitudes and behaviors for males and females. Males are more likely to engage in casual sex, which could lead to the belief that it is acceptable to have more than one sexual partner at a time. One major limitation of this study was the fact that the surveys were administered in classrooms where students may have influenced each otherís responses. Some participants may have embellished on their responses. One survey was disregarded due to our belief that the participant had not responded accurately. We did not believe the participant was responding honestly because he went out of his way to tell us about his sexual experiences, even after we stressed the confidentiality of the survey. Another limitation of this study was in the survey. Question number three was somewhat ambiguous and therefore, was probably not understood by everyone who participated. The question asked how many children were in the family. When writing the question we were interested in the number of siblings the participant has, but the participants may have thought that we were asking how many children he or she has. Another method that could be used to obtain data is the face-to-face interview. If we had used the face-to-face interview we probably would have been more likely to get honest answers. Some of the participants had left some questions blank on the survey. However, with a face-to-face interview we would have been able to obtain the answers to those questions. The downside to this approach is that it is much more time consuming. For future research in this area it would be beneficial to use more participants. By increasing the number of participants the power of the study is also increased. It also might be interesting to see if gender of the participantís siblings has an effect. Theoretical birth order could also be investigated. By studying the age difference between the participants and their siblings along with gender, the modeling or opportunity hypotheses could be investigated.


REFERENCES
Baumeister, R. F. (Ed.). ( 2001). Social Psychology and human sexuality. Philadelphia, PA: Psychology Press/Taylor & Francis.Billingham, R. E., Smith, K. A., & Keller, J. (1989). The effect of chronological and theoretical birth order on sexual attitudes and behaviors. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 18, 109-116.Douvan, E., & Adelson, J. (1966). The adolescent experience. New York: Wiley.Horn, J. M., & Turner, R. G. (1975). Birth order effects among unwed mothers. Journal of Individual Psychology, 31, 71-78.Lammers, C., Ireland, M., Resnick, M., & Blum, R. (2000). Influences on adolescentsí decision to postpone onset of sexual intercourse: A survival analysis of virginity among youths aged 13 to 18 years. Journal of Adolescent Health, 26, 42-48.Rodgers, J. L. (1992). Sibling differences in adolescent sexual behavior: Inferring process models from family composition patterns. Journal of Marriage and Family, 54, 142-152.

Submitted 4/25/2002 12:12:38 PM
Last Edited 4/25/2002 12:17:14 PM
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