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23 January 2003
Family History Does Influence Sexual Behaviour
by George Atkinson

Black teenagers, sons of men who became teenage fathers, were three times more likely to be sexually active compared with those whose fathers had not been teen dads, according to a new study.

The study also found that Hispanic teen males were 10 times more likely to engage in sexual intercourse if they had a sibling who had been a teen parent, compared with others. The study examined survey results from 178 black and Hispanic teens living in San Bernardino County, which had one of the highest rates of teen pregnancy rates in California at the end of the last decade.

Sixty-seven percent of the 178 teens surveyed for the study were sexually active. Enjoyment and curiosity, along with pressure from friends and a desire to "prove their manhood," were the main reasons they had sex, the young men told the researchers.

The findings should help communities develop better programs to reduce teen pregnancies and other risky sexual behaviors, say Naphtal Kaberege Rucibwa, Dr.P.H., of Loma Linda University and colleagues. The study results appear in the January/February issue of the American Journal of Health Behavior.

"In particular, this suggests that abstinence-based messages about sexual behavior may be effective only for adolescents who do not see themselves as ready for sex, whereas adolescents who are sexually active may need tailored messages that address their sexual experiences," Rucibwa and colleagues say.

The black and Hispanic teens were questioned about their own sexual behavior, family structure, parents' attitude toward sex and their peers' sexual behavior. Teens who reported having parents with permissive attitudes about sex and who thought that their peers were sexually active were more likely to have sex themselves, the researchers found.

Along with boys who did not have teen fathers, black teens who attended church were also significantly less likely to be sexually active. Younger Hispanic teens, 13 to 16 years old, and Hispanic teens who thought their parents had strict attitudes against teenage sex were also less likely to be sexually active.

"Our study implies that empowering parents, especially a father, to become parental monitor of the adolescent's daily activities is one way to ensure low-risk sexual behavior among adolescent males," the researchers say.

More than half of the survey participants who had sexual intercourse came from single-parent homes and all participants lived in low-income neighborhoods. Although they did not specifically survey the socioeconomic status of the participants, the researchers suggest "some behaviors may have more to do with socioeconomic status than race or ethnicity."

Despite an overall drop in the teen birth rate in the 1990s, birth rates among black and Hispanic teens are still higher compared with white teens. Although there have been many studies of sexual attitudes and activity among minority teen females, few researchers have focused on sexual attitudes among black and Hispanic teen males, according to Rucibwa and colleagues.

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