Impact of a Sexual Responsibility Program on Young Males

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ABSTRACT

Data are presented from 335 young males who were participants in Wise Guys, a sexual responsibility program of the Family Life Council of Greater Greensboro. Comparisons were made with 145 similar males who did not participate in the program. Positive changes in knowledge and behavior were observed among the program participants but not the comparison group.

Until recently, males were not included in efforts to reduce teen pregnancy. At best, males were regarded as irrelevant; at worst, they were seen as the enemy. Most efforts to document the sexual activity of teenagers did not even include males. For example, although called the National Survey of Family Growth, information on sexual behavior has been collected only for women (Mosher & Bachach, 1996), and a recent survey of family planning clinics in the United States collected information only on services to women (Frost, 1996). Notable exceptions have been the 1979 National Survey of Young Men and the National Survey of Adolescent Males conducted in 1988 (along with the 1991 follow-up) and 1995. These surveys provide much of what is currently known about the sexual activity of males between the ages of 15 and 19.

The majority of participants in the National Survey of Adolescent Males were sexually active, having had sexual intercourse at least once. Among 19-year-olds the percentage who reported sexual activity remained at 85% from 1988 to 1995. At the same time, among 15-year-olds the percentage declined from 33% in 1988 to 27% in 1995 (Sonenstein, Pleck, & Ku, 1989; Sonenstein, Stewart, Lindberg, Pernas, & Williams, 1997). This suggests that young males are delaying the initiation of sexual intercourse, but continue to become sexually active while adolescents.

Contraceptive use has increased among 15-year-old males. In 1988, over a third of the sexually active 15-year-olds reported that they did not use an effective method of contraception at last intercourse, with the percentage decreasing to a little over 20% in 1995. However, while the majority of 15- to 19-year-old males reported that they used a condom at last intercourse, the majority also reported that they did not use a condom every time (Sonenstein, Pleck, & Ku, 1989). Consistent condom use at one point in time has been found to be related to continuing condom use at a later time (Ku, Sonenstein, & Pleck, 1994).

Males appear to respond positively to efforts to increase responsible sexual behavior. Those in the 1988 National Survey of Adolescent Males who had received sexuality education reported less frequent intercourse, fewer sexual partners, and more consistent condom use. Instruction in resistance skills had a stronger influence than did lessons on the threat of AIDS or instruction in the use of birth control (Ku, Sonenstein, & Pleck, 1992).

Most of the males interviewed in the 1988 National Survey of Adolescent Males had received formal instruction in regard to AIDS (73%), birth control (79%), and resisting sexual activity (58%) (Ku, Sonenstein, & Pleck, 1992). However, for many of these males, the instruction they received came after they had already become sexually active. Marsiglio and Mott (1986) found that only a quarter of the males who had intercourse by the time they were 15 had taken a sexuality education course; less than 10% received any instruction before they were 13. Interestingly, less than one in five males, compared to over a third of the females, first learned about sex from a parent.

This review indicates that a high percentage of adolescent males have had sexual intercourse, many of them before the age of 15. Few of them talk about sex with their parents. Formal instruction appears to result in more responsible behavior, especially if it includes resistance skills and is received before sexual activity begins. Those who consistently use contraception early are more likely to continue using it as they become older. …