Adolescents experiment with different things as they transition from childhood to adulthood. Many teens will have their first taste of alcohol and drugs during adolescence. This behavior significantly lowers teens’ inhibitions and can lead to other dangerous activities, including engaging in risky sexual behavior, which puts them at increased risk for sexually transmitted diseases (STIs) and HIV/AIDS. Adolescents who contract STIs most often do so due to inconsistent condom use when having sex with an infected partner. Because the rates of STIs are much higher among African American young adults than White young adults, it is imperative to understand which factors influence sexual risk taking across cultures.
Maria R. Khan of the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the University of Maryland’s School of Public Health recently led a study to determine how alcohol use in adolescence affects sexual risk taking among Whites as compared to African Americans. Khan used data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health to compare alcohol and sexual behaviors in adolescence and young adulthood in a sample of 10,783 participants. She found that during adolescence, Whites had higher levels of reported alcohol use than African Americans. This predicted later sexual risk taking in Whites. Specifically, White participants were 50% more likely to have more than two sexual partners in the previous year if they had a history of adolescent drinking. The odds increased to nearly 70% of having more than five sexual partners as their level of drinking increased.
Although African Americans had lower levels of adolescent alcohol misuse, they had equal levels of risky sexual behaviors as Whites. Additionally, alcohol use increased the likelihood of unsafe sexual activity by more than 60% in both groups of participants. This relationship was also found between alcohol use and sex with an infected person. These results clearly demonstrated that alcohol misuse in adolescence influenced the lack of condom use and increased the sexual activity with infected partners for both Whites and African Americans. However, Khan believes that social and economic barriers could prevent African Americans from receiving the education and intervention services aimed at safer sexual activity. She added, “Parents, schools, and health care providers should improve communication about alcohol use in attempts to delay use and should identify alcohol users to address use and potentially prevent adverse health effects.”
Khan, M. R., Berger, A. T., Wells, B. E., Cleland, C. M. (2012). Longitudinal associations between adolescent alcohol use and adulthood sexual risk behavior and sexually transmitted infection in the United States: Assessment of differences by race. American Journal of Public Health, 102.5, 867-876.
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