Journal Article

The effect of school status and academic skills on the reporting of premarital sexual behavior: Evidence from a longitudinal study in rural Malawi

Purpose
Reliable data on sexual behavior are needed to identify adolescents at risk of acquiring human immunodeficiency virus or other sexually transmitted diseases, as well as unintended pregnancies. This study aimed to investigate whether schooling status and literacy and numeracy skills affect adolescents’ reports of premarital sex, collected using audio computer-assisted self-interviews.

Methods
We analyzed data on 2,320 participants in the first three rounds of the Malawi Schooling and Adolescent Study to estimate the level of inconsistency in reporting premarital sex among rural Malawian adolescents. We used multivariate logistic regressions to examine the relationships between school status and academic skills and premarital sexual behavior reports.

Results
Males were more likely than females to report premarital sex at baseline, whereas females were more likely than males to report sex inconsistently within and across rounds. School-going females and males were more likely to report never having had sex at baseline and to retract reports of ever having sex across rounds than were their peers who had recently left school. School-going females were also more likely to report sex inconsistently at baseline. Literate and numerate respondents were less likely to report sex inconsistently at baseline; however, they were more likely to retract sex reports across rounds.

Conclusions
The level of inconsistency both within a survey round and across rounds reflects the difficulties in collecting reliable sexual behavior data from young people in settings such as rural Malawi, where education levels are low and sex among school-going females is not socially accepted.