November 8th, 2010
06:15 PM ET
Even though teenage boys are known for their risky behavior, it’s girls who are more likely to engage in unprotected first sex, according to research presented Monday at an American Public Health Association meeting in Denver.
Nicole Weller, a doctoral student at Arizona State University, analyzed government data and found adolescent girls were 30 percent more likely than boys to have sex without contraception during their first sexual encounter. Weller said that surprised her.
“It does because of the history of boys engaging in risky behavior across the spectrum and then seeing that females are having first unprotected sex is telling a different story,” Weller said. For example, teenage boys are more likely than girls to drink and smoke.
But Laura Lindberg, senior research associate at the Guttmacher Institute, said boys may still have a lot to do with it. She said teenage girls are less likely than boys to want to have sex when it happens for the first time and may not do as good a job advocating for birth control. Lindberg added that contraception at first sex is 80 percent condoms, meaning birth control largely depends on the boy.
In the research presented Monday, sexual education at school did not affect use of contraceptives during an adolescent’s first sexual encounter even though more than 80 percent of adolescents receive some type of sex ed, Weller said. Nor did it matter what type they received. Weller broke down sexual education into abstinence-only, birth control methods, and information about sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
The study looked at data from 5,012 boys and girls aged 11 to 19 from the National Survey on Family Growth who reported any sexual activity. The average age of first sex in that group was 16 for both boys and girls.
Studies have shown that the older a teen is before sex, the more likely they are to use birth control.
Weller plans to look at whether girls are more likely to engage in unprotected sex if they are in a relationship.
“The hypothesis is that relationship status will override sexual education. I love my boyfriend. I trust my boyfriend. I’m not worrying about getting an STD from him,” she said.
Her research also found African Americans were 40 percent more likely to engage in unprotected first sex than whites.
Weller’s presented her research as a poster at the conference, meaning it was not peer reviewed. The doctoral student said she expected to complete the research by the end of the year and submitted to peer reviewed journals early next year.
Weller conducted her work at Arizona State’s Interdisciplinary Research Center, which is funded by a grant from the National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities.
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