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Are Latino teens sexual risk takers? It's complicated, researcher says
Date:2/22/2010

URBANA - A University of Illinois researcher advises caution when trying to characterize gender roles and sexual behavior among this country's Latino adolescents and young adults.

"When a recent documentary about U.S. Latinos featured two teen mothers in a 90-minute program, the Latino students in my classes thought it was an unbalanced portrayal of their communityand they were right!" said Marcela Raffaelli, a U of I professor of human and community development and co-author of a recently published chapter on Latino teen sexuality.

National surveys do show that Latino young people as a group are less likely than their non-Latino peers to use condoms and birth control and are more likely to become pregnant and have a child. But these statistics hide a much more complicated picture, she said.

For one thing, Latinos represent more than 20 different groups, and they live in very different situations in the United States.

"For example, Cuban immigrants who moved to the United States when Castro came to power tended to be very wealthy, and they created an entrepreneurial, successful enclave in Miami. Compare them with Central American immigrants who may be refugees from a civil war in the 1980s. Language, religion, and some aspects of culture are apt to be the same, but socioeconomic status is probably very different, and that's a big predictor of early sexual activity and teen pregnancy," Raffaelli said.

When you adjust for socioeconomic status and other demographic factors, the difference in adolescent sexual behavior between Latinos and other groups largely disappears.

Attempts to understand sexuality among Latino teens are also complicated in that researchers don't have the data to draw conclusions about how cultural factors influence sexuality. "People talk a lot about Latino culture and sexuality, but they typically don't measure cultural variables, such as adherence to cultural norms and attitudes, in th
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Contact: Phyllis Picklesimer
p-pickle@illinois.edu
217-244-2827
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Source:Eurekalert

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