Academic journal article International Family Planning Perspectives

Gender Differences in Adult Perspectives on Adolescent Reproductive Behaviors: Evidence from Lome, Togo. (ARTICLES)

Academic journal article International Family Planning Perspectives

Gender Differences in Adult Perspectives on Adolescent Reproductive Behaviors: Evidence from Lome, Togo. (ARTICLES)

Article excerpt

Context: Information on adults' attitudes toward adolescent sexual and contraceptive behaviors is crucial, since adults may facilitate or obstruct adolescents' adoption of healthy behaviors. Relatively little information in this area has been gathered in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Methods: In 1998, baseline data were collected from 1,027 adults aged 30 and older as part of an evaluation of a youth center in Lome, Togo. Chi-square tests and multivariate analyses were used to assess differences by gender in adults' perspectives on adolescent reproductive health behaviors.

Results: Women in Lome hold more conservative attitudes than men toward adolescent sexuality, specifically in their views on contraceptive use among adolescents and unmarried couples. For example, bivariate data indicate that 58% of adult women but only 48% of adult men disapprove of premarital sex among adolescents. Moreover, nearly one-half (48%) of women disapprove of young people using contraceptives, compared with fewer than one-third (31%) of men; on the other hand, 40% of women and 25% of men disapprove of unmarried couples practicing contraception. According to multivariate analyses, older and less-educated adults are more likely to hold conservative attitudes than younger and more-educated adults. Once age and other social and demographic variables are controlled for, women are significantly more likely than men to have held a reproductive health discussion with a daughter, but there is no difference by gender of the adult in the likelihood of having had such a discussion with a son.

Conclusions: Women's comparatively more conservative attitudes may be important if women are young people's primary source of reproductive health information. Future research needs to examine whether these adult perspectives directly affect adolescent reproductive health outcomes.

Because today's adolescents are attaining puberty earlier and marrying later, they are more likely to engage in premarital sex than members of their parents' generation were. (1) Adolescents who have premarital sex often fail to use contraceptives, thus exposing themselves to risks of unintended pregnancy and of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV. (2) Globally, more than 13 million adolescents younger than 20 give birth each year, contributing roughly 10% of the total annual number of births. (3) Moreover, about one-half of all HIV-infected individuals are younger than 25, and the majority of these young people are women. (4)

Unprotected premarital sex is especially prevalent in Sub-Saharan Africa. A recent study of female senior high school students in Nigeria, for example, found that their mean age at first sex was 15 and that 23% of those who were sexually experienced had ever been pregnant; the vast majority of these pregnancies (88%) ended in abortion. (5) Another recent analysis conducted in Cameroon demonstrated that by age 18, the majority of adolescents, regardless of their marital status, are sexually experienced and have been exposed to risky sexual practices, including exchanging sex for money, having multiple partners and failing to use condoms. (6)

To reduce the incidence of unprotected premarital sexual activity, adults need to understand adolescent reproductive decision-making. Clearly, the social environment plays an important role in affecting adolescent behaviors. (7) The social environment for adolescents includes their friends, sexual partners and family members, as well as their community, school and other institutions that work with youth.

Background

In this article, we focus on one aspect of the social environment--the family. The family obviously has a strong influence on young people's aspirations and values from an early age. (8) For example, adolescents who learn about their parents' and elders' values regarding premarital sexual activity or contraceptive use are less likely to engage in sexual risk-taking than their peers who are not exposed to their elders' values. …

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