Sexual Behaviour Profile of a Diverse Group of Urban Youth: An Analysis of the Toronto Teen Survey

Article excerpt

Abstract: The objective of this study was to document the sexual behaviour of an ethno-culturally diverse sample of 1,200 urban youth and to assess the association of their experience of 11 behaviours with such factors as age, gender, immigration, race, religion, location of sexual education and sexual orientation. Grouping of these behaviours into three "risk" categories also permitted a similar assessment based on the "highest" risk category that youth had experienced. The descriptive and statistical findings in relation to race, religion, immigration status, and sexual orientation provide a basis for strengthening sexual health programming for urban youth. They also highlight the need to pay close attention to issues of vulnerability and stereotyping when reflecting on who is and is not engaging in various sexual behaviours.

Acknowledgements: This study was supported by grants from the Ontario HIV Treatment Network, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Centre for Urban Health Initiatives, and the Wellesley Institute. It was hosted by Planned Parenthood Toronto. We want to thank the entire Toronto Teen Survey Research Team for all their help in gathering, managing and analyzing the data: Susan Flynn, Crystal Layne, Dr. June Larkin, Dr. Robb Travers, Hazelle Palmer, Adinne Schwartz, Kristin McIlroy, Adrian Guta, Roxana Salehi, our amazing students and research assistants and our youth advisory committee. Finally, we want to express gratitude to the community partner agencies that hosted workshops, and the youth and service providers who participated in our research.


The sexual behaviour of Canadian youth continues to be a major topic of interest for researchers, public health professionals, and policy-makers (Maticka-Tyndale, 2008; Rotermann, 2008; Saewyc, Taylor, Homma, & Ogilvie, 2008) with particular emphasis on trends associated with changes in risk behaviours related to sexual health. Research on ways to reduce such risks and to thereby avoid unwanted outcomes has focused largely on predictors of safer sex practices, such as the use of contraception and condoms (Doljanac & Zimmerman, 1998; Harvey, Henderson, & Branch, 2004; Kotchick, Shaffer, Forehand, & Miller, 2001; Santelli et al., 1997; Sieving, Bearinger, Resnick, Pettingell, & Skay, 2007).

To the extent that such studies on trends and predictors have drawn on demographically representative samples, the numbers of ethno-cultural minority youth and sexual minority youth have often been too small for analysis. As urban centres have become increasingly diverse and multi-cultural, public health professionals have recognized the need for sexual health promotion interventions that are effective and sensitive to the varied needs of these populations of youth (de Visser, 2005). Research on social and cultural predictors of sexual risk behaviour of youth is limited (Kotchick et al., 2001), but the available evidence has shown a relationship between an urban youth's environment and ethnic background and his/her sexual risk behaviour (Brewster, 1994; Everett et al., 2000). The present study sought to explore the associations between socio-demographic factors and sexual behaviour among a diverse sample of urban youth.

The present study

The Toronto Teen Survey was designed to engage and sample a large population of urban teens with the express intent of ensuring a sizeable representation of ethno-culturally and sexually diverse youth (Flicker et al., 2010). Our purpose in the present study was to document the sexual behaviour of these youth and to provide quantitative estimates of the relationship between socio-cultural factors (for example: age, gender, immigration status, race, religion, location of sexual education and sexual orientation) and other possible aspects of their behaviour. Although it is impossible to modify many socio-demographic predictors, it is hoped that identification of such associations will lead to targeted prevention efforts better attuned to the varied needs of this diverse population. …