Other Adolescent Sexuality Issues
Adolescent substance use increases the likelihood of risky adolescent sexual behavior, including multiple sexual partners and early initiation of sexual intercourse. Among students who reported current sexual activity in the YRBS, 24.8 percent had used alcohol or drugs at last sexual intercourse. Male students (31.2%) were more likely to have used such substances than females (18.5%). In examining the data by race, both white male (33.7%) and female students (21.5%) were more likely than Hispanic (male: 30%; female: 14.4%) and black students (male: 26.6%; female: 9.3%) to have combined alcohol or drugs with their last sexual experience.
Substance use has also been associated with sexual violence among adolescents. In 1998, of the almost half million cases of victim-reported rape, 43 percent of the victims reported the offender was under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs. Alcohol has been deemed the chief date-rape drug on U.S. college campuses.
The 1999 YRBS data revealed that 8.8 percent of American students (grades nine through twelve) had been forced to have sexual intercourse against their will. Female students (12.5%) were more than twice as likely to report that they had been victims of sexual aggression than male students (5.2%). By race, black (11.6%) and Hispanic students (10.5%) were more likely to report forced sexual intercourse than white students (6.7%).
A final adolescent sexuality issue that is often ignored is sexual orientation. In 1998 Robert Bidwell wrote that the prevalence of sexual minority youth (e.g., gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender) was undetermined. Yet it is important to consider sexual orientation in relation to other sexual risk behaviors and adolescent health in general. Sexually active gay adolescents are at particular risk for HIV infection. In 1999, according to the CDC, 46 percent of reported HIV infections among adolescent males (ages thirteen to nineteen) were attributed to male-to-male sexual contact. In addition to medical risks, the DHHS found that lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth face discrimination, hatred, isolation, and an increased risk for suicide.
It is evident that adolescents can and do take a great number of sexual risks. Unprotected intercourse has the ability to create life (pregnancy) or to end life (HIV infection). Fortunately, researchers have found a number of relevant avenues of prevention. These include addressing factors related to neighborhoods (e.g., socioeconomic status, joblessness), peers (e.g., sexually active friends), families (e.g., family instability, single-parent households, sibling sexual activity), and individuals (e.g., academic motivation, depression). Adolescents certainly have much to gain through more comprehensive prevention efforts.
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Laurie L. Meschke