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Purpose: Early onset of sexual activity has been linked to later substance abuse. Our study aimed to further describe the associations between Latina mothers’ and daughters’ early sexual activity and adult substance abuse.

Methods: A survey was conducted with 92 Latina mother–daughter dyads whose members never experienced sexual abuse. Childhood sexual experience was defined as the occurrence of a consensual sexual encounter at the age of 15 years or younger. Substance abusers were identified by the extent of substance use during the 12 months prior to the interview. Path analysis was used to fit our conceptual models to the data.

Main findings: Daughters’ current, adult substance abuse was associated independently with: their own childhood sexual experience (odds ratio [OR] = 6.0) and mothers’ current, adult substance abuse (OR = 2.0). Compared with daughters who first experienced sex after the age of 19, the odds of using substances were 17.7 times higher among daughters who had childhood sexual experience and 3.8 times higher among daughters who first experienced sex between the age of 16–19 years. Explicitly, sexual experiences between the ages of 16–19 years were also risk factors for later adult substance abuse. Mothers’ childhood sexual experience (OR = 7.3) was a strong predictor for daughters’ childhood sexual experience.

Conclusions: Our study supported a link between mother and daughter childhood sexual experience among Latinas, and indicated it is a correlate of adult substance abuse. Family based substance abuse prevention efforts and future longitudinal studies should consider maternal childhood sexual experience as a potential indication of risk for Latina daughters.


This article was originally published in DOAJ International Journal of Women's Health.

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