Research Roundup: Helping Minority Youth Avoid STDs, HIV and Unplanned Pregnancy

Photograph of a Latina teen girl wearing a red AIDS awareness ribbon

Minority youth tend to face more negative consequences from having sex—things like sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy—than do their white peers. Three recent studies explore some of the potential reasons for this difference to see how programs can help minority teens make healthier choices.

Knowledge Is Power

Two sets of researchers conducted studies of minority youth to see what they knew about topics like condoms, HIV/AIDS, and unplanned pregnancy. One group looked at characteristics of participants based on their answers to a survey, while the other conducted focus groups to see what young people had to say.

Based on the studies' findings, here are some things that may make it easier for minority youth to get the information they need to be safe:

  1. Having a job--and thus a regular network of peers. Young African American women living in Atlanta without jobs had less information about STDs than those who were employed, a study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health found. Researchers speculated that going to work each day may connect youth to colleagues who have had more sexual health education.
  2. Feeling like they have control over their lives. The same study also discovered that participants who reported lower feelings of “self-mastery”—the idea that they could take steps to become their best selves—also answered fewer questions about sexual health correctly.
  3. Feeling that services are truly confidential. Researchers at the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium (PDF, 490KB) discovered that Alaska Native youth were nervous to seek advice from village clinics because someone might find out. Some didn’t want to buy condoms at local stores in case they ran into someone they knew.
  4. Having easy access to important information. Alaska Native youth also said they would like to get sexual health information online and on television, because they could surf the Web and watch TV easily and privately.

Motivation Is Key

Another study, published in the Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal, focused less on what teens knew about sex and more on what motivates them to pursue or avoid risky behaviors. Researchers examined the survey responses of nearly 3,500 Latino youth about the potential positive and negative effects of having sex, getting pregnant or getting someone pregnant. The survey also asked participants to rank their likelihood of contracting a sexually transmitted infection or HIV/AIDS.

Overall, youth were more likely to make a decision about having sex based on things like feeling guilty or upsetting their mothers, rather than taking into account the potential health risks. But researchers also warned youth programs to avoid a “one-size-fits-all” intervention for Latino youth after finding differences based on ethnicity (Mexican versus Cuban for example) and gender.

Read the Articles

Correlates of sexually transmitted infection prevention knowledge among African American girls, Journal of Adolescent Health, Vol. 51, No. 2, (August 2012).
Alaska Native and Rural Youth Views of Sexual Health: A Focus Group Project on Sexually Transmitted Diseases, HIV/AIDS, and Unplanned Pregnancy (PDF, 490KB), American Indian and Alaska Native Mental Health Research, Vol. 19, No. 1, (2012).
Barriers to Prevention: Ethnic and Gender Differences in Latino Adolescent Motivations for Engaging in Risky Behaviors, Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal, Vol. 29, No. 2, (April 2012).

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