Family Functioning and Early Onset of Sexual Intercourse in Latino Adolescents

Article excerpt

SEXUAL HEALTH-RISK BEHAVIORS AMONG LATINO/HISPANIC YOUTH

An age and racial disparity in HIV/STD infection has been observed in the U.S. (CDC, 2002), where young people, and minority youth in particular, are hit hardest. Thus, Latino/Hispanic youth are at increased risk for HIV/STD infection compared to their nonminority peers. According to the Youth Risk Behavior Survey's (YRBS) 2004 data, nationwide 46.7% of students in grades 9 to 12 have had sexual intercourse. However, the prevalence is higher among African American (67.3%) and Hispanic (51.4%) than among white youth (41.8%; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, May 21, 2004). The prevalence of sexual intercourse before age 13, of having 4 or more sex partners, and the prevalance of unintended pregnancies show the same trend. The prevalence of using a condom at last intercourse was lowest among Latino/Hispanic students (57.4% vs. 62.5% in non-Hispanic white and 72.8% in African American students; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, May 21, 2004). These findings suggest that Latino/Hispanic youth are at greater risk for adverse health consequences such as contracting HIV and other STDs, when compared to non-Hispanic white youth. Furthermore, Kaberege et al. (2003) highlight the fact that although the birth rates in U.S. adolescents had decreased in the past years, African American and Latino/Hispanic teens have higher birth rates when compared with non-Hispanic white teens.

Disparity in HIV Risk

Becoming sexually active at an early age places youth at increased risk for contracting HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). The risk of acquiring HIV and STDs is higher in youth, particularly among minorities (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2002). Four million teens in the U. S. contract an STD each year, and half of the 40,000 new HIV cases in the U.S. are younger than 25 (Alan Guttmacher Institute, 2003). Furthermore, there has been a steady increase in HIV/AIDS diagnoses among Latinos/Hispanics from 1999 to 2002 (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2002). These trends indicate an age and racial disparity in HIV/STD infection.

Sexual Intercourse and HIV Transmission

HIV infection through sexual contact is high, being the second mode of HIV transmission after intravenous drug use. HIV infection often occurs in late adolescence/young adulthood, but most cases are diagnosed years later, when they are in the 25 to 39 age group (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2002).

A significant number of adolescents become sexually active at an early age. In Puerto Rico, it has been reported that 31% of 15- to 19-year-olds are sexually active. Of these, only 34% used a condom at last intercourse and 7% reported having 4 or more sexual partners in their lifetime (Puerto Rico Department of Education, 1997). While in the United States the adolescent birth rates have declined in the last decade, from 62.1/1000 in 1991 to 48.5/1000 in 2000, the rates in Puerto Rico have not declined as sharply, for example, from 72.4 in 1991 to 71.5 in 2000 (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2002).

In order to reduce the disparity in HIV/STD infection among young Latinos/Hispanics, we need to identify the factors associated with risky sexual behaviors such as becoming sexually active at an early age. Thus, one approach to prevention is delaying the onset of sexual activity.

Theoretical Framework: Ecological Systems Theory

Luster & Small (1994) developed a 4-factor model based on Bronfenbrenner's (1979, 1986) Ecological Systems Theory in order to understand adolescent sexual activity. The model encompasses 4 levels of factors. The individual level includes personal characteristics such as alcohol, cigarette and substance use, attitudes, and self-esteem. The family level includes family characteristics; the level of extra familial factors includes peers and school. …