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Access Type

WSU Access

Date of Award

January 2019

Degree Type


Degree Name




First Advisor

Valerie A. Simon


Romantic and sexual development become increasingly prominent during early adolescence. Peer networks seem to play an important role in adolescents’ romantic and sexual engagement. However, much of the research focuses on middle to late adolescence or risk-related behavior. Less is known about how specific aspects of early adolescents’ peer networks contribute to emergent behavior that spans the full range of romantic and sexual engagement. The current study is among the first to examine associations between sex-specific characteristics of girls’ peer network and a subsequent range of romantic and sexual experiences. In a sample (N=91) of urban, mostly African American (76%) early adolescent girls, above and beyond cumulative familial risk, pubertal development, and prior romantic and sexual experience, the presence of age-atypical peer relationships in girls’ networks, including higher proportions of older and emotionally close males, predicted subsequent age-atypical romantic and sexual experiences nine months later. Findings point to the potential importance of peer relationship intervention for early romantic and sexual development. As early adolescents’ peer networks become increasingly mixed sex, helping girls foster and sustain same-age other-sex and close same-sex friendships may be beneficial to their continued interpersonal development.

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