December 4, 2002
The study, conducted by Dr. Deborah A. Cohen of the nonprofit RAND Corporation and colleagues, found that 80 percent of teens who spent at least 30 unsupervised hours each week reported that they were sexually active. By comparison, only 68 percent of teens who spent less than five unsupervised hours per week reported sexual activity.
"A lot of kids are home alone for long hours," Cohen said. "And they take advantage of that time to engage in risk behavior."
Ninety-one percent of teens who reported having sex said they had done so the last time at a home, either theirs or someone else's, the authors reported. Their study, "When and Where Do Youths Have Sex? The Potential Role of Adult Supervision" was published in the December online edition of Pediatrics (2002;110:e66). They also found that boys who spent more than five hours per week after school without an adult present were twice as likely as other boys to have gonorrhea or chlamydia.
Cohen suggested that reducing the number of hours teens spend unsupervised would be a good way to reduce how often they have sex and potentially put their health at risk. Although most parents have to work, she noted that schools and local governments could sponsor after-school activities for teens without incurring exorbitant expense. Such activities would keep them busy "where their interests are diverted to something that's more developmentally appropriate to them." Fifty-nine percent of the girls in the study who participated in after-school activities reported being sexually active, compared with seventy-one percent of the girls with no after-school activities.
Study data came from surveys Cohen and her colleagues distributed to 2,034 teens, mainly African-Americans, at six public high schools in an urban area. The teens were tested for gonorrhea and chlamydia.
The investigators found no difference in time spent alone among teens from single-parent homes and those from two-parent families. Most sexually active teens reported that they last had sex during the week. The current results suggest teens need more information on safe sex practices, but Cohen also said she believes an adult's presence can have a major impact on how many times teens have sex, safely or not.
"I think a lot of sexual activity is opportunistic," she said. "And if they have fewer opportunities, there's going to be less risk-taking."
12.02.02; Alison McCook