Correlates of the Intention to Remain Sexually Inactive among Underserved Hispanic and African American High School Students

By Bazargan, Mohsen; West, Kimberly | Journal of School Health, January 2006 | Go to article overview

Correlates of the Intention to Remain Sexually Inactive among Underserved Hispanic and African American High School Students


Bazargan, Mohsen, West, Kimberly, Journal of School Health


In the United States, today, 9% of women between the ages of 15 and 19 years become pregnant each year. This constitutes about 890,000 teenage pregnancies each year. From this group of pregnant teens, 5% give birth, 3% have induced abortions, and 1% have miscarriages or stillbirths--rates much higher than those in other developed countries. (1) Although teen pregnancy rates have declined since 1991, rates remain higher than they were in the mid-1970s. Substantial morbidity and social problems result from these pregnancies by affecting the mother, her children, other family members, and society. (2) Recognition of the different social, psychological, and behavioral contexts within which adolescents initiate sexual activity broadens the understanding of teenage sexual behavior beyond the typical dichotomy of sexual experience versus inexperience. (3,4)

Racial disparities exist in the rates of teen pregnancy in the United States, with the highest rates among African Americans and Hispanics? The most recent statistics on adolescent births indicate for the first time ever that the rate of teenage pregnancies among Latino adolescents have now surpassed that among African Americans adolescents. (5) In the year 2001, the rates of pregnancy among 15- to 19-year-old females were 3.03%, 7.35%, and 8.64% among non-Hispanic white, African American, and Hispanic women, respectively. (6)

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System in 2003, 46.7% of high school students have had sexual intercourse. (7) From the group of sexually active students, 37% had not used a condom at last sexual intercourse. In particular, minority students engage in sexual activity at a rate much higher than their white counterparts. In 2003, 67.3%, 51.4%, and 41.8% of African American, Hispanic, and non-Hispanic white students, respectively, reported having engaged in sexual activity. Similarly, the percentage of students who had sexual intercourse with 4 or more people during their life was much higher among African Americans (28.8%) and Hispanics (15.7%) than their non-Hispanic white counterparts (10.8%). (8)

Despite these alarming statistics, less than half of all public schools in the United States offer information on how to obtain contraceptives, and most schools increasingly teach abstinence-only-until-marriage (or abstinence-only) education. (9) However, the content of these sexual education programs varies considerably. Topics such as abstinence and basic information on the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are commonly taught. Yet, substantial variability exists among educators regarding even how the term "abstinence" is defined. (10) Abstinence-only-until-marriage education programs receive more than $100 million annually in government funds, most of which stems from the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996. There is currently no clear evidence that any of these programs which promote sexual abstinence and restrict information about contraception do in fact achieve their intended purpose. (11)

Reviewing 21 abstinence-only-until-marriage program curricula, Wilson et al noted that none were created specifically for a selected ethnic group. (12) Theoretical-based studies are needed to reexamine the predictors of the intention to remain sexually inactive/active among disadvantaged minority populations. Data provided from these types of studies may lead to more culturally appropriate educational and motivational interventions. (4)

The present study employed the Information-Motivation-Behavior (13,14) (IMB) theoretical framework (Figure 1) and delineated a set of motivational and attitudinal correlates of the intention to remain sexually inactive among African American and Hispanic high school students in South Central Los Angeles (Figure 1). Specifically, this study examined the interrelationship between the intention to remain sexually inactive (at least until graduating from high school) and knowledge of STDs, and pregnancy, perceived pregnancy repercussions, safer sex attitudes, perceived peer pressure, perceived peer norms, as well as abstinence behavioral skills. …

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