Self-esteem and adolescent sexual behaviors, attitudes, and intentions: a systematic review. Academic Article uri icon


  • PURPOSE: This review systematically examined the relationship between self-esteem and adolescents' sexual behaviors, attitudes, and intentions, as empirically investigated by researchers over the last 20 years. METHODS: Based on the Matrix Method for systematic reviews, five electronic databases and reference lists of published studies were searched. Thirty-eight (n = 38) publications met specific inclusion and exclusion criteria and comprised the final sample. Each study was assigned a methodological quality score (MQS; maximum = 20 points). Each study's empirical test of the relationship between self-esteem and sexual behaviors/attitudes/intentions was counted as a single finding and was classified as exhibiting an inverse linear relationship, no statistically significant linear relationship, or a positive linear relationship. RESULTS: A total of 189 findings (average = 4.97/publication, range 1-28) were analyzed. Most findings (n = 138, 73%) consisted of tests of self-esteem and sexual behaviors. Regarding the nature of the relationship between self-esteem and the various behavior/attitude/intention variables, 62% of behavior findings and 72% of the attitudinal findings exhibited no statistically significant association. All of the intention-related findings exhibited some type of relationship (either positive or inverse). Studies' average MQS was 11.71 (SD = 1.60). Higher quality studies yielded findings of positive or absence of relationship (Cramer's V = .329, p = .001). CONCLUSIONS: If most findings exhibit no association between self-esteem and adolescent sexual behaviors/attitudes/intentions, questions are inevitably raised whether the emphasis placed on self-esteem by public health professionals is innocuous. Recommendations for methodological improvement of this body of research are also presented.

published proceedings

  • J Adolesc Health

altmetric score

  • 0.75

author list (cited authors)

  • Goodson, P., Buhi, E. R., & Dunsmore, S. C.

citation count

  • 124

complete list of authors

  • Goodson, Patricia||Buhi, Eric R||Dunsmore, Sarah C

publication date

  • January 2006