American Ethnic Diversity in Adolescent Sexual Experiences

A variety of studies have consistently reported that African American teenagers are more likely to engage in adolescent coitus than either White or Hispanic American teenagers (Cavazos-Rehg et al., 2011; Centers for Disease Control, 2010i). For example, a nationwide study reported that African American high school seniors were significantly more likely than Hispanic American seniors and White American seniors to have experienced sexual intercourse (Centers for Disease Control, 2010i). The results of this study, summarized in ■ Table 12.5, also revealed that African American youth tend to have their initial experi­ences with intercourse at an earlier age than either Hispanic American or White youth.

■ TABLE 12.5 Ethnicity and Percentage of Adolescents Reporting Having Had Sexual Intercourse

Males

Females

Males and Females Combined

White (%)

Black (%)

Hispanic (%)

White (%)

Black (%)

Hispanic (%)

White (%)

Black (%)

Hispanic (%)

By 12th grade

39.6

72.1

52.8

44.7

58.3

45.4

42.0

65.2

49.1

Before age 13

4.4

24.9

9.8

2.2

5.6

3.7

3.4

15.2

6.7

SOURCE: Centers for Disease Control (2010i).

These ethnic differences in adolescent sexual experiences could be related more to economic status than to race or ethnicity. Poverty is a strong predictor of sexual activity among adolescents (Kissinger et al., 1997; Singh & Darroch, 2000). Teenagers from the least affluent segments of American society are more likely to engage in sexual activ­ity than are those from more affluent classes, and African Americans and Hispanic Americans are often less affluent than White Americans. Furthermore, studies indicate that African American adolescents raised in more affluent homes are significantly more likely to abstain from sexual intercourse than are their poorer counterparts (Leadbeater & Way, 1995; Murry, 1996).

The trend in both sexes toward having intercourse at an earlier age is a source of considerable concern for many social scientists and health practitioners. Numerous studies have linked early sexual intercourse with increased risk for adverse health out­comes, including unintended pregnancy, delinquency, reduced educational attainment, increased probability of exposure to HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and increased number of lifetime sexual partners (Andruff & Wentland, 2012; Cheng & Landale, 2011; Pearson et al. 2012).