Family Sources of Sexual Health Information, Primary Messages, and Sexual Behavior of At-Risk, Urban Adolescents

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Background: Sources of sexual health information exert strong influence on adolescents' sexual behavior. Purpose: The current study was undertaken to understand how family serve as sexual information sources, the messages adolescents recall from family, and how family learning experiences affect sexual behavior among at-risk adolescents. Methods: Individual interviews were conducted with 69 teens, ages 15-18 years, from an alternative high school and a juvenile correctional facility to capture adolescents' early sexual health learning experiences involving family and evaluate their association with teens' recent sexual behavior. Sexual learning narratives were compared among gender and sexual experience groups. Results: Many participants identified family as sexual health information sources. Primary messages recalled: risks of sex, protection, and relationship advice. Many adolescents portrayed learning experiences as negative, cautionary, lacking detail and not always balanced with positive messages. Participants who reported four or more sexual risks were the only group to identify pornography as a sexual health information source. Participants who reported fewer than four sexual risks were most likely to identify family sexual health information sources. Discussion: Participants identified family members as sources of sexual health information, with variations by gender. Negative/ cautionary messages require teens to seek additional sexual information elsewhere (primarily friends/media). Males, in particular, appear to often lack familial guidance/education. Translation to Health Education Practice: Sexual health messages should be tailored to adolescents' needs for practical and sex-positive guidance regarding mechanics of sex and formation of healthy relationships, and balanced with cautions regarding negative consequences.

Rosengard C, Tannis C, Dove DC, van den Berg J, Lopez R, Stein LAR, Morrow KM. Family sources of sexual health information, primary messages, and sexual behavior of at-risk, urban adolescents. Am J Health Educ. 2012;43(2):83-92. Submitted June 20, 2011. Accepted August 18, 2011.

BACKGROUND

Rates of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and unplanned pregnancies are high among adolescents in the U.S. Though rates of teen pregnancy have declined in recent years, the U.S. has the highest rates of any industrialized country. (1) Annually, more than 9 million young people contract a STD --nearly half of incident STD cases, despite adolescents constituting a quarter of the sexually active population. (2) Certain subpopulations of teenagers are at increased risks due to sexual behaviors/networks, particularly those from high-risk, urban environments. Adolescents who attend alternative high schools (3-5) and those involved in the juvenile justice system (6-9) report disproportionate sexual risk behavior (early sexual debut, high numbers of lifetime sexual partners, condom inconsistency) and, therefore, consequences of sexual risk behavior (STDs and unplanned pregnancy). The most recent data on health behaviors of alternative school students come from the Alternative Youth Risk Behavior Survey (ALT-YRBS), conducted in 1998 and parallel to the YRBS. (3,4) This survey found that a majority of participants reported having had sexual intercourse and more than half reported four or more lifetime sexual partners, while just under half of sexually active students reported using condoms for their last episode of sex. Adolescents involved in the juvenile justice system also report early sexual debut (<13 years old), multiple sexual partners, and condom inconsistency. (8) A recent study of STD rates, including Chlamydia, Gonorrhea and Syphilis, among newly-arrested youth found positivity rates between 10% and 20%. (6, 10) High rates of pregnancy and having fathered a child are also found among incarcerated/detained adolescents. (9, 12)

Influence of Family (Sources, Messages and Associations with Later Behavior)

Parents and other family members are often cited as important sources of sexual health information for adolescents. …