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Family Connectedness and Sexual Risk-Taking Among Urban Youth Attending Alternative High Schools

September 19, 2003

A note from TheBody.com: Since this article was written, the HIV pandemic has changed, as has our understanding of HIV/AIDS and its treatment. As a result, parts of this article may be outdated. Please keep this in mind, and be sure to visit other parts of our site for more recent information!

Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health recently published a study that examines the influence of family connectedness on the sexual behavior of young people attending alternative high schools. Researchers wanted to determine whether alternative high school students who perceive a higher level of family connectedness engage in less risky sexual activity than students who perceive a low level of family connectedness.


Methods

Researchers recruited 976 participants from the Safer Choices 2 programs in 10 inner-city alternative schools in Houston, Texas.

Safer Choices 2 is an adolescent pregnancy, HIV, and sexually transmitted disease (STD) prevention program. Participants were recruited from the 7th through 12th grades; 58% of them were female and 42% male. Parental consent was obtained.

Research shows that alternative high school students engage in risky sexual behavior at higher rates than do their peers in mainstream schools. Thus they are at higher risk of becoming involved in a pregnancy or contracting an STD.

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All participants completed audio computer-assisted self-interviews during regular school hours. The interviews asked questions addressing demographic characteristics, sexuality-related psychosocial factors, and sexual behaviors.


Results

Sexual Activity

  • Sexual intercourse was defined as when "a boy puts his penis into a partner's vagina or anus."

  • Overall, 68% of participants (73% of males and 63% of females) reported having had sexual intercourse

  • Of those participants who reported having had sexual intercourse:

    • 74.1% (75.3% of males and 73.1% of females) reported having had sexual intercourse within the three months preceding the study

    • 56.1% (48.9% of males and 62.5% of females) reported having had sexual intercourse without a condom within the three months preceding the study

    • 28.5% (10.8% of males and 17.7% of females) reported having been involved in a pregnancy


Family Connectedness

Family connectedness was measured using responses to 14 statements such as "Our family members feel very close to each other" or "I prefer being with my friends than being with my family." Responses were scored on a four-point scale ranging from zero (strongly agree) to three (strongly disagree). Six items were reverse-coded so that a high score always reflected high perceived family connectedness. Researchers then totaled these scores to form a larger scale of zero to 42. Higher numbers indicated a perception of greater family connectedness.


Family Connectedness and Family Structure

  • 17% of participants scored 20 or lower (low perceived connectedness)

  • 32% of participants scored between 21 and 30 (medium perceived connectedness)

  • 51% of participants scored between 31-41 (high perceived connectedness)

  • Male participants had a higher average level of perceived family connectedness than female participants (30.9 compared 28.1)

  • Participants living with both biological parents were more likely to perceive higher levels of family connectedness than participants living with only one biological parent (30.4 compared to 29.4)

  • Participants living with only one biological parent were more likely to perceive high levels of family connectedness than participants living with non-relatives/alone (29.4 compared to 27.5)

The researchers found that participants who perceived having greater family connectedness were significantly less likely than those with lower perceived family connectedness to report having had sexual intercourse, having had recent sexual intercourse without a condom, or having been involved in a pregnancy. The researchers conducted logistical regression analyses to examine the association between students' perception of family connectedness and their reported sexual activity. They determined that for every one point increase on the family connectedness scale, the odds of engaging in each risk behavior decreased by 3%.

The researchers concluded that students' perception of family connectedness may be a protective factor related to sexual risk-taking, even among such high-risk youth as those who attend alternative schools. They believe that designing and including activities that facilitate positive parent-child relationships can help educators and physicians develop effective HIV, STD, and pregnancy prevention programs for high-risk youth.


For More Information

Christine M. Markham, et al., "Family Connectedness and Sexual Risk-Taking Among Urban Youth Attending Alternative High Schools," Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, vol. 35, no. 4, pp. 174-9.

A note from TheBody.com: Since this article was written, the HIV pandemic has changed, as has our understanding of HIV/AIDS and its treatment. As a result, parts of this article may be outdated. Please keep this in mind, and be sure to visit other parts of our site for more recent information!



  
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This article was provided by Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States. It is a part of the publication SHOP Talk: School Health Opportunities and Progress Bulletin.
 
See Also
More Statistics on Young People and HIV/AIDS in the U.S.

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