When it comes to factors associated with risky sexual behavior in America’s youth, experts often point out how friends, socioeconomic status and lack of sexual health awareness contribute. When it comes to Hispanics, however, two other factors can also indicate risk–language and place of birth.
The data comes from a new study this month in the Journal of Adolescent Health detailing how sexual risk behaviors of young Hispanic people living in the U.S. vary considerably with their degree of acculturation.
Specifically, researchers looked at how sexual health risk varied by language and place of birth, following four groups of participants between the ages of 15 and 24: Spanish-speaking Hispanic immigrants; English-speaking Hispanic immigrants; Hispanic natives (ethnically Hispanic, English speakers born in the U.S.); and non-Hispanic white natives, who spoke English.
While, across the board, more than 60 percent of young people reported having sexual contact, Spanish-speaking individuals were less likely to have used adequate protection during vaginal intercourse. Only approximately 50 percent of Spanish-speaking participants used a condom, compared to more than 75 percent of English-speaking participants.
Other key points of the study included:
- Spanish-speaking immigrants age 15 to 24 were more likely than English-speaking immigrants, Hispanic natives or non-Hispanic whites to report ever having vaginal sex.
- Hispanic natives and non-Hispanic white youths were also more likely than Spanish-speaking immigrant youth to have a regular place of health care.
- Spanish-speaking immigrants between the ages of 15 and 24 reported the highest rates of vaginal intercourse out of the four study groups at 76 percent.
- Spanish-speaking immigrants were also far likelier to have first had vaginal sex with a partner six or more years older than themselves.
- Sixty-five percent of Spanish-speaking immigrant youth reported no health coverage, compared to 30 percent of non-Hispanic white youth.
- Among females, U.S. natives were more likely to report having had a chlamydia test within the past year; among males, there was no difference in the receipt of sexually transmitted infection tests by acculturation group.
While the study showed language and place of birth, or rather immigration status, were linked to certain risky sexual health behaviors, experts indicated in a press release the exact reasons why acculturation impacts sexual health are not fully clear. Hispanic youth face social and economic barriers such as poverty that reduce their ability to access health care, thus limiting their ability to detect, treat and prevent sexually transmitted infections. It appears, however, there may be more to the disparity than previously thought; cultural norms may also play an important role.
“These findings on disparities in sexual behavior and health care access for Spanish-speaking immigrants reinforce the need to increase the number of culturally competent sex education programs for Latino/Latina youth,” Leslie Kantor, MPH, said in a press release from Health Behavior News Service, part of the Center for Advancing Health.
Sexual health is an important topic for Hispanics in the United States, as recent numbers suggest Hispanics have some of the highest sexually transmitted disease numbers, including those related to HIV/AIDS.