WINSTON-SALEM, N.C.--Parents who take their families to religious services regularly may be helping their children develop aspects of spirituality that are associated with the choice not to become sexually active, according to a recent study published in the April issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health.

"Spirituality is a common facet of adolescents' lives," according to researchers at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine and Harvard Medical School. "Younger age, higher spiritual interconnectedness, particularly among friends, and personal importance of religion are associated with a lower likelihood of voluntary sexual activity. Both spiritual interconnectedness and importance of religion were positively associated with frequency of attendance at religious services or bodies of faith."

Spiritual interconnectedness is defined as the supportive components of an individual's ties to friends and associates within a body of faith, said David Holder of Harvard Medical School and the paper's first author.

One hundred and forty-one patients were asked to fill out a 153-item questionnaire assessing demographics, psychosocial parameters, spiritual beliefs, and sexual practices. Eight specific aspects of spirituality were asked, including religious attendance, personal religious importance, intrinsic and extrinsic religious motivation, belief in God, belief in divine support, existential aspects of spirituality, and spiritual interconnectedness.

Over 90% felt religion was somewhat important in their lives. Over 85% reported a belief in God, and 56% reported a history of voluntary sexual activity. For each point increase on the scale of spiritual interconnectedness, the odds of sexual activity decreased by 8%.

"This study is interesting because it officially documents something most people believe to be true--that religion plays an important role in an adolescent's life," said Robert H. DuRant, Ph.D., vice-chair for Health Services Research for the Department of Pediatrics at Wake Forest University School of Medicine and director of the Brenner Center for Child and Adolescent Health. "When children are exposed to activities in any religious faith, they develop positive relationships with other peers, they tend to view religion as important in their lives, and they tend to think they have a higher purpose in life. It can be a very positive cycle."

"This study shows that spirituality and degree of social integration add to youths' ability to create purpose and meaning in their lives and to make choices of not engaging in sexual activity," DuRant said.

The mean age of the 141 respondents was 16. Over 50% of the subjects espoused one of four faiths: Roman Catholic, Baptist, Church of God, or Pentecostal. While over 30 faiths or belief systems were represented, only 17% of respondents reported no faith at the time of inquiry.

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