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Assimilation Affects Immigrants' Sexual Behavior

English-speaking Hispanic teens more likely to have sex earlier, study finds

TUESDAY, March 8, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- Assimilation into American culture may influence the sexual behavior of Hispanic teens, according to a study that finds English-speaking Hispanic teens more likely to have sex at an early age than their primarily Spanish-speaking peers.

Cultural integration may factor as a "a unique contribution to the onset of intercourse" in these teens, wrote researchers at the University of Arizona, Tucson.

Reporting in the March issue of the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, they compared data on nearly 7,300 Hispanic and white students enrolled in Grades 7-12. All of the participants also took part in the Arizona Abstinence-Only Education Program.

Overall, Hispanic teens were more likely than white teens to have had sex, the researchers report. However, that statistic obscured the fact that there were wide differences in sexual behavior between different Hispanic teens.

For example, Hispanic teens who spoke English and were highly integrated into American society were 170 percent more likely than white teens to have had intercourse, the researchers found. But the study also found that Hispanic teens whose primary language was Spanish were 40 percent less likely than white teens, 65 percent less likely than English-speaking Hispanic teens, and 55 percent less likely than bilingual Hispanic teens to have experienced first intercourse.

"Language differences might be indicative of broader cultural differences, even within ethnic groups," the study authors pointed out.

In an editorial comment, experts at the Medical College of Wisconsin said these findings are another reflection of what they call the "healthy immigrant effect," where something about the values and/or lifestyle of recent immigrants protects them against illness and risky behaviors, despite challenges such as poverty or lack of health care.

"A greater understanding of the healthy immigrant effect has the potential to help to improve the health and health outcomes of all children," they wrote.

More information

The Nemours Foundation has more about teen sexual health.

SOURCE: JAMA/Archives Journals, news release, March 8, 2005
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