A growing number of U.S. Latina adolescents are engaging in non-marital sexual relations. Between 1982 and 1990, the percentage of Latinas aged 15-19 who reported being sexually active increased from 42% to 49%, and by 1995, the rate rose to 55%. This rate is higher than that of non-Latina whites (50%) and lower than that of nonLatina blacks (60%). The increase in sexual activity among Latinas aged 15-17 is even greater, rising from 36% in 1988 to 50% in 1995 (Abma, Chandra, Mosher, Peterson, & Piccinino, 1997; DuRant, Pendergast, & Seymore, 1990; Forrest & Singh, 1990). Important differences in sexual behavior between U.S.-born and non-U.S.-born Latinas have been reported. For example, U.S.-born Mexican American adolescent females, compared to those who are Mexican-born, initiate sexual intercourse at earlier ages (15-17 vs. 17-19), and have higher rates of sexual activity and more sexual partners (Aneshensel, Becerra, Fielder, & Schuler, 1990; Darabi & Ortiz, 1987).
Latinas, compared to other ethnic groups, are the least likely to use contraceptives, and have the longest interval between first intercourse and use of contraceptives (Aneshensel, Fielder, & Becerra, 1989; Becerra & Fielder, 1985; DuRant et al., 1990; Padilla & Baird, 1991; Scott, Shifman, Orr, Owen, & Fawcett, 1988). In 1995, 53% of Latinas under 20 years of age reported using any contraceptive method, compared to 83% of non-Latina whites and 72% of non-Latina blacks (Abma et al., 1997). In addition, Mexican-origin adolescent females are the least likely to have discussed sex or contraception with anyone, compared to non-Latina whites and blacks (Becerra & Fielder, 1985; de Anda, 1985; DuRant et al., 1990; Padilla & O'Grady, 1987). Thus, these sexual behavior trends suggest that sexual intercourse is more of a risk factor for premarital pregnancy and childbearing among Latinas than other ethnic groups.
Latina adolescents are also very likely to carry their pregnancy to term and keep their baby if they become pregnant (Aneshensel et al., 1989; Darabi, Dryfoos, & Schwartz, 1986; Ventura, Taffel, & Mosher, 1995). In 1995, the Latina teenage birthrate (107 per 1,000) surpassed that of non-Latina blacks (99 per 1,000), with both groups more than twice as likely as non-Latina whites (39 per 1,000) to become teen mothers. The highest Latina adolescent birthrate continues to be among Mexican American teen girls at 125 per 1,000 (Darabi & Ortiz, 1987; Mathews, Ventura, Curtin, & Martin, 1998).
These sexual behaviors also place Latina adolescents at risk for sexually transmitted diseases and HIV. The highest rates for several STDs occur among adolescents (Centers for Disease Control, 1995), and some reports indicate that the incidence of gonorrhea and syphilis for Latino adolescents in general is higher than for non-Latino whites (Brindis, 1992; CDC, 1999; Holmes, 1991; Webster & Berman, 1993). Also, the incidence of AIDS among Latino adolescents is more than twice as high as the incidence among non-Latino white adolescents (CDC, 1999; Holmes, 1991; Singer et al., 1990).
In spite of these high rates, insufficient information is available for understanding the sociocultural factors underlying Latina adolescents' sexual behavior. The limited research on the sexual attitudes of Latina adolescents and the normative influences on their sexual behavior suggests that Mexican American adolescent males and females generally hold traditional attitudes about the importance of having children, virginity before marriage, and the importance of having sex only in the context of love (Padilla & Baird, 1991; Padilla & O'Grady, 1987). However, sexually active Mexican American female adolescents have more permissive attitudes about having sex outside marriage than do sexually inactive females, and these attitudes are consistent with those of their friends, who also tend to be sexually active (Becerra & Fielder, 1985). …