Introduction & Hypotheses Self-silencing in romantic relationships is linked to both earlier transition to adolescent sexual intercourse and higher depressive symptomology (Harper & Welsh, 2007) and also to depression in young women (Jack & Dill, 1992).
Self-silencing in romantic relationships is linked to both earlier transition to adolescent sexual intercourse and higher depressive symptomology (Harper & Welsh, 2007) and also to depression in young women (Jack & Dill, 1992).
Adolescent females who silence themselves in romantic relationships report less open communication about sex (Widman, et al., 2006).
Rejection sensitivity is a marker of attachment insecurity in adolescence, which has been positively linked to adolescent depression (Margolese, Markiewicz, & Doyle, 2005; Sund &Wichstrom, 2002).
Adolescents who are insecure in relationships and sensitive to rejection may engage in sexual activities to satisfy unmet needs for love and to avoid abandonment (Rodgers, 1996; Tracy et al., 2003). Anxiously attached females may be more likely to agree to unwanted sex to keep a partner, whereas anxiously attached males report less sexual confidence (Tracy et al., 2003).
We predict that the link between individual adolescent characteristics of rejection sensitivity and self-silencing and depression is moderated by the effects of sexual behavior in their romantic relationships. These effects may be stronger for females.
The Study of Tennessee Adolescent Romantic Relationships (STARR)
209 adolescent dating couples1
Middle: aged 14-17
Older: aged 17-21
Couples dating a minimum of 4 weeks
(range: 4 weeks – 5 years; median: 11 months)
Relationship Satisfaction scale from the Relationship Experiences Questionnaire (Levesque, 1993)
Males = 0.70; Females = .62
Rejection Sensitivity Questionnaire (Downey & Feldman, 1996)
Males = 0.87; Females = 0.87
Silencing the Self Scale (Jack & Dill, 1992)
Males = 0.77; Females = 0.77.
Sexual Behaviors Questionnaire (Welsh et al., 2005)
Mean couple report of intercourse frequency (past month) = 5. 48
Centers for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale (Radloff, 1977)
Males = 0.87; Females = 0.87.
Couple-level analyses were conducted using HLM to allow for nested data while also maintaining power by using the full sample. HLM provides:
1) an estimate in the component of variance in depressive symptoms attributed to individual-level differences and couple-level differences
2) information about the extent to which each variance component could be predicted by factors at that level
All couple factors were centered around the grand mean.
The length of time dating prior to first assessment was controlled in all models.
Differences in Depressive Symptoms Between Couples
22% of variance in depressive symptoms is between couples.
64% of variance in depressive symptoms is within couples (plus error).
Partners who are higher in depressive symptoms tend to be together, and those who are lower in depressive symptoms tend to be together (t(207) = 26.47, p < .001).
Level 1 & 2 Models
Differences in Depressive Symptoms Between Couples Based on Couple Characteristics
Couples who reported a higher frequency of sexual intercourse also reported greater depressive symptoms (t(205) = -2.38, p < 0.05)
Differences in Depressive Symptoms Within Couples Based on Characteristics of Individuals
Controlling for between-couples effects
Higher depressive symptoms among:
Females (t(407) = -2.32, p < .05).
Younger adolescents (t(407) = -1.99, p < .05).
Higher self-silencing adolescents (t(407) = 3.27, p < .01)
More rejection sensitive adolescents (t(407) = 8.06, p < .001).
There were no interactions with gender for self-silencing or rejection sensitivity.
Frequency of Sexual Intercourse as a Moderator of Self Silencing and Rejection Sensitivity
Sexual Intercourse is a significant moderator of Self-Silencing, such that highly self-silencing individuals who are in a couple with a higher frequency of intercourse report the most depressive symptoms (t(403) = 2.26, p < .05). See Figure 1.
Sexual Intercourse is a trend-level moderator of Rejection Sensitivity, following a similar pattern to Self-Silencing (t(403) = 1.67, p = .10).
Study of Tennessee Adolescent Romantic Relationships
Moderating Effects of Adolescent Sexual Behavior on Rejection Sensitivity, Self-silencing, and DepressionKatherine C. Little, Rachel Holmes, Deborah P. Welsh, & Nancy Darling
The authors gratefully acknowledge NICHD for funding this project (Grant # R01 HD39931, PI Deborah Welsh). We also extend our gratitude to the STARR lab graduate students, project coordinators, and undergraduate assistants, past and present.
Figure 1. Sexual Frequency X Self-Silencing Interaction Effect on Depressive Symptoms
1Couples were recruited from a previous study of 2201 high school students from 17 different high schools representing geographic (rural, urban, suburban) and economic diversity