Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality

Sexual Health and Risk Behaviour among East Asian Adolescents in British Columbia

Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality

Sexual Health and Risk Behaviour among East Asian Adolescents in British Columbia

Article excerpt

Despite the large number of adolescents of East Asian origin in Canada, there is limited research on sexual health among this population. A first step to develop strategies for sexual health promotion for adolescents is to document the prevalence of sexual behaviours. This study estimated the prevalence of sexual health and risk behaviours among East Asian adolescents in grades 7 to 12, using the province-wide, school-based 2008 British Columbia Adolescent Health Survey (un-weighted N = 4,311). Less than 10% of East Asian adolescents had ever had sexual intercourse. Among those who were sexually experienced most had engaged in high risk sexual behaviours, including multiple sexual partners and non-condom use at last intercourse. Compared to immigrant students whose primary language at home was not English, immigrant and Canadian-born students speaking English at home were more likely to experience sexual intercourse. Among students who had never had sexual intercourse, the two most common reasons were not feeling ready and waiting to meet the right person. The findings suggest the need for sexual health interventions tailored to the gender and socio-cultural contexts in which adolescents live.

KEY WORDS: Youth, immigrants, Adolescent Health Survey, Chinese, Canada


A critical developmental task of adolescence is to learn about healthy sexual relationships and practices. Sexual exploration and experimentation are commonly recognized as part of adolescence (Amaro, Navarro, Conron, & Raj, 2002; Gowen, Feldman, Diaz, & Yisrael, 2004; Jeltova, Fish, & Revenson, 2005). Participation in sexual intercourse has become common among older adolescents. Nearly half of adolescents in grades 9 to 12 in North America reported that they have engaged in sexual intercourse (Boyce et al., 2006; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 2010; Saewyc, Taylor, Homma, & Ogilvie, 2008). Although many sexually experienced adolescents engage in safer sexual practices, the initiation of sexual intercourse may put some adolescents at greater risk of health problems. For example, between 30% and 40% of sexually experienced adolescents reported that they or their partner did not use a condom at last intercourse (Smith et al., 2009) and that they had had at least three sexual partners (Boyce et al.; Saewyc et al.). These sexual behaviours increase the risk of acquiring a sexually transmitted infection (STI), including human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), and also the risk of experiencing unintended pregnancy.

In North America, Asian adolescents are less likely to be sexually experienced than adolescents from other ethnic groups (Grunbaum, Lowry, Kann, & Pateman, 2000; Kuo & St Lawrence, 2006; Lowry, Eaton, Brener, & Kann, 2011; Poon& Franz, 2000; Sasaki & Kameoka, 2009; Spence & Brewster, 2010). The proportion of adolescents who reported ever having sexual intercourse was nearly 12% of East Asian students (i.e., Chinese, Korean, and Japanese) in grades 7 to 12 in the 2003 British Columbia Adolescent Health Survey (Homma & Saewyc, 2008), and about 20% of Japanese American adolescents in grades 9 to 12 in the 2003 Hawaii Youth Risk Behavior Survey (Sasaki & Kameoka). Nevertheless, among sexually experienced adolescents, the prevalence of high risk sexual behaviours among those who are Asians did not differ from that of their peers (Grunbaum et al.; Hou & Basen-Engquist, 1997; Lowry et al.; Poon & Franz).

Asians in North America consist of diverse and heterogeneous groups who differ in socio-demographic characteristics including language, religion, home country, and immigration experience. The prevalence of sexual activity likely varies across these subgroups. It is particularly important to take into account the possible influence of culture in analyses of adolescents of Asian descent. In previous research, higher rates of sexual activity among Asian adolescents were associated with greater exposure to North American culture, such as being born in the United States (US) (Cochran, Mays, & Leung, 1991) and speaking English at home (Greenman & Xie, 2008; Schuster, Bell, Nakajima, & Kanouse, 1998). …

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