Sara Vasilenko

M.S., Ph.D.
Associate Professor

Dr. Vasilenko’s research focuses on adolescence and young adult health and well-being, with a focus on sexual behavior. Her work on this topic is inspired by both health risk and normative developmental perspectives. She is particularly interested in understanding what factors lead to better sexual health and well-being for individuals at different stages of the lifespan, as well as how sexual behavior is associated with physical, mental, and social health outcomes. In addition to these substantive interests, she also has a strong interest in developmental methodology, including longitudinal analysis and person-centered approaches. She has served as a Principal or Co-Investigator on multiple grants from the National Institutes of Health and other sources. She currently is a consulting editor of the Journal of Research on Adolescence and on the editorial board of Applied Developmental Science.

Dr. Vasilenko will be accepting graduate students for fall 2024


Ph.D. Human Development and Family Studies, Pennsylvania State University

M.S. Human Development and Family Studies, Pennsylvania State University

BA. English (Writing Emphasis), Kalamazoo College


Adolescent and adult development, sexual behavior, developmental methodology, substance use, romantic relationships, religiosity.

Research Focus

Dr. Vasilenko’s research focuses on:

  • How sexual behaviors, their predictors, and their consequences differ across the lifespan
  • What patterns of multidimensional, multilevel socio-ecological factors are associated with later health
  • How sexual behavior is associated with mental health and well-being

Research Projects

Dr. Vasilenko is involved in several on-going research projects, most of which involve the application of innovative statistical methods to secondary data ranging from intensive daily diary data to large, nationally representative longitudinal studies. Listed below are the projects she is most actively working on currently.

Multidimensional predictors of sexual behavior in adolescence and young adulthood

Adolescents and young adults are at risk of negative sexual and reproductive health outcomes; however, new approaches are needed to unlock insights from data collected across development in order for researchers to understand the multilevel predictors and developmental nature of sexual risk. This study uses data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health to a) uncover patterns of multidimensional, multilevel risk factors in adolescence b) examine how these patterns are associated with sexual behavior, STIs and unintended pregnancy across adolescence and young adulthood.

Sexual development and well-being in Mexican adolescents

Researchers have increasingly moved beyond a risk-focused perspective on adolescent sexuality to a more normative approach that focuses on how sexual behavior may influence well-being. However, little of this research on sexual well-being has focused on Latin America. In collaboration with Dr. Graciela-Espinosa-Hernandez at UNCW, this study focuses on adolescent sexuality in Mexican middle and high school students, with a focus on cultural values and sexual well-being.

Statistical Expertise

Time-Varying Effect Modeling, Latent Class Analysis, Multilevel Modeling


CFS 363 - Midlife Development and Gerontology

CFS 388 - Human Sexuality

Recent Publications

  • Vasilenko, S. A., Espinosa-Hernández, G, Rice, C. E.*, Biello, K., Novak, D., Mayer, K. Mimiaga, M., & Rosenberger, J. G. (2019). Patterns of sexual behavior and associations with well-being among young men who have sex with men in Mexico. Journal of Sex Research. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1080/00224499.2018.1563667.
  • Vasilenko, S. A., Glassman, J. R., Kugler, K. C., Peskin, M. F., Shegog, R., Markham, C., Tortolero Emory, S., & Coyle, K. K. (2019). Examining the effects of an adolescent pregnancy prevention program by risk profiles: A more nuanced approach to program evaluation. Journal of Adolescent Health. 64, 732-736. doi: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2018.12.003
  • Rice, C. E., Vasilenko, S. A., Fish, J. N., & Lanza, S. T. (2019). Sexual minority health disparities: An examination of trends across adulthood. Annals of Epidemiology. 31, 20-25. doi: 10.1016/j.annepidem.2019.01.001
  • Vasilenko, S. A. & Espinosa-Hernández, G. (2019). Multidimensional profiles of religiosity among adolescents: Associations with sexual behaviors and romantic relationships. Journal of Research on Adolescence. 29, 414-42. doi: 10.1111/jora.12444
  • Lefkowitz, E. S., Wesche, R.**, Vasilenko, S. A., & Maggs, J. L. (2018). Changes in diverse sexual and contraceptive behaviors across college. Journal of Sex Research. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1080/00224499.2018.1499854
  • Maas, M. K.**, Vasilenko, S. A., & Willoughby, B. (2018). A dyadic approach to pornography use and relationship satisfaction among heterosexual couples: The role of pornography acceptance and anxious attachment. Journal of Sex Research, 55, 772-782. doi: 10.1080/00224499.2018.1440281
  • Epstein, M., Furlong, M., Kosterman, R. Bailey, J. A., King, K. M., Vasilenko S. A., Steeger, C. M., & Hill, K. G. (2018). Adolescent age of sexual initiation and subsequent adult health outcomes. American Journal of Public Health, 108, 822-828. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2018.304372.
  • Reid, A.**, Halgunseth, L. C., Espinosa-Hernández, G. & Vasilenko, S. A. (2018). Sociocultural influences on the association between negative romantic experiences and psychological maladjustment in Mexican adolescents. Journal of Research on Adolescence. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1111/jora.12375
  • Vasilenko, S. A., Rice, C. E.*, & Rosenberger J. G (2017). Patterns of sexual behavior and sexually transmitted infections in young men who have sex with men. Sexually Transmitted Diseases, 45, 387–393. doi: 10.1097/OLQ.0000000000000767
  • Rice C. E.*, Vasilenko S. A., Lanza S. T., Davis J. A., Fields K. S., Ervin M., & Norris Turner, A. (2017). Time since first acting on same-sex attraction and recreational drug use among men who have sex with men (MSM): Is there an effect of “gay age”? Substance Use and Misuse, 53, 852-858. doi: 10.1080/10826084.2017.1388407
  • Vasilenko, S. A., Evans-Polce, R. J.*, & Lanza, S. T. (2017). Age trends in rates of substance use disorders across ages 18–90: Differences by gender and race/ethnicity. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 180, 260-264. doi: 10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2017.08.027.
  • Vasilenko, S. A., Linden-Carmichael, A., Lanza, S. A. & Patrick. M. E. (2017). Sexual behavior and heavy episodic drinking across the transition to adulthood: Differences by college attendance. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 28, 473–487. doi: 10.1111/jora.12348
  • Cleland, C., Lanza, S. T., Vasilenko S. A., & Gwadz, M. (2017). Syndemic risk classes and substance use problems among adults in high-risk urban areas: A latent class analysis. Frontiers in Public Health, 5, 237. doi: 10.3389/fpubh.2017.00237
  • Linden-Carmichael, A. Vasilenko, S. A., Lanza, S. T. & Maggs, J. L. (2017). High-intensity drinking versus heavy episodic drinking: Prevalence rates and relative odds of alcohol use disorder across adulthood. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 41, 1754-1759. doi: 10.1111/acer.13475
  • Vasilenko, S. A., & Lefkowitz, E. S. (2017). Sexual behavior and daily affect in emerging adulthood. Emerging Adulthood, 6, 191-199. doi: 10.1177/2167696818767503
  • Vasilenko, S. A. (2017). Age-varying associations between non-marital sexual behavior and depressive symptoms across adolescence and young adulthood. Developmental Psychology. 53, 366-378. doi: 10.1037/dev0000229