Early sexual experiences

Summary

I am interested generally in youth sexual development and childhood sexual experiences. As such, Dr. Lucia O’Sullivan and I have been involved in a number of projects attempting to understand normative sexual development. For example, in one study, we examined the developmental transitions from one type of sexual behaviour to another for male and female adolescents. In another, we investigated online extradyadic interactions (e.g., sexting, sending or receiving nude photos of a non-partner) among adolescents.

In addition, we are working together on a 4-year SSHRC funded project on early sexual experiences, particularly during childhood. Childhood sexual experiences (CSE) are not well understood (Larrson & Svedin, 2002), and long-term effects of such experiences have been the subject of widespread debate (e.g., Hyde, 2007; Tromovitch & Rind, 2007). Despite substantial research in the last 30 years (Maniglio, 2009; Poole & Wolfe, 2009), researchers remain unclear about the prevalence of various CSE as well as what differentiates normative experiences from abuse. Indeed, prevalence of specific types of CSE varies enormously across studies because of methodological differences, such as sampling variation, disparate definitions of experiences, or diversity of age criteria (Pereda, Guilera, Forns, & Gómez-Benito, 2009). Nevertheless, it is clear that a substantial percentage of people have sexual experiences during childhood. Given that researchers (e.g., Maniglio, 2009; Senn, Carey, & Vanable, 2008) have found variable psychosocial outcomes (e.g., internalizing and externalizing problems, resiliency) among individuals with some CSE (e.g., sexual abuse), it seems important to examine the range and prevalence of experiences, as well as the factors that uniquely predict normative, adverse, and positive outcomes. It is my hope that the work we are doing can contribute to an understanding of the nature and developmental course of these experiences. We have actively recruited university-aged participants and conducted anonymous, computerized surveys. We have also recently completed a phase two of the project in which we conducted in-person, follow-up interviews with individuals who endorsed having CSE. Over the next few years, we will be conducting large-scale surveys across Canada.

Publications

Ronis, S. T., & LeBouthillier, D. M. (in press). University students’ attitudes toward purchasing condoms. Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality.

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O’Sullivan, L. F., & Ronis, S. T. (2013). Virtual cheating hearts: Extradyadic and poaching interactions among adolescents with links to online sexual activities. Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science, 45, 175-184. doi:10.1037/a0031683

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Ronis, S. T., & O’Sullivan, L. F. (2011). A longitudinal analysis of predictors of male and female adolescents’ transition to intimate sexual behavior. Journal of Adolescent Health, 49, 321-323. doi:10.1016/j.jadohealth.2010.12.010

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O’Sullivan, L. F., & Ronis, S. T. (2013). Sexual development in girls: “Normative” development and development of paraphilias and sexual offending behaviors. In W. O’Donohue & D. Bromberg (Eds.), Handbook of Child and Adolescent Sexuality: Developmental and Forensic Psychology (pp. 193-219). New York: Elsevier.

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Ronis, S. T. (2014). The dark side of sex: Assault and harassment. In C. Pukall (Ed.), Human Sexuality: A Contemporary Introduction (pp. 417-445), Toronto, ON: Oxford University Press.

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Presentations

Hearn, G., & Ronis, S. T. (2013, October). Self-esteem as a mediator between childhood sexual abuse and subsequent substance use. Poster session to be presented at the meeting of the Canadian Sex Research Forum, Charlottetown, PEI.

Ronis, S. T., Harrop-Archibald, E., Hearn, G., O’Sullivan, L. F., Malcom, K. E., & Johnston, N. E. (2013, August). Linking diverse outcomes in young adulthood to specific childhood sexual experiences. Poster session presented at the meeting of the American Psychological Association, Honolulu, HI.

LeBouthilier, D. M., Ronis, S. T., & McKeown, C. A. (2012, March). Attitudes of youth who obtain or provide reproductive health products and services. Poster session presented at the bi-annual meeting of the Society for Research on Adolescence, Vancouver, BC.

Ronis, S. T., & O’Sullivan, L. F. (2011, September). Virtual cheating hearts: The relationship between Internet activity and sexual infidelity. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Canadian Sex Research Forum, Vancouver, BC.

Ronis, S. T., Thornton, S. J., & DuPlessis, A. (2011, September). Childhood sexual experiences: Results from a retrospective online survey. Poster session presented at the annual meeting of the Canadian Sex Research Forum, Vancouver, BC.

O’Sullivan, L. F., & Ronis, S. T. (2011, June). A longitudinal analysis of predictors of male and female adolescents’ transitions to intimate sexual behavior. Paper presented at the bi-annual meeting for the World Association for Sexual Health, Glasgow, UK.

Ronis, S. T., & O’Sullivan, L. F. (2011, April). Different strokes: Predicting male and female adolescents’ transitions to intimate sexual activity over a one-year period. Paper presented at the bi-annual meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development, Montreal, Quebec.

Ronis, S. T., & O’Sullivan, L. F. (2011, April). Not just sex: Unique and common characteristics of adolescents who engage in oral sex versus those who have intercourse. Poster session presented at the bi-annual meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development, Montreal, Quebec.

Media

Summer 2013 CBC Information Morning, radio, Moncton, NB View
Concerns raised for victims in Snook case, CTV News View

Supported by

Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC)