Sex, Pregnancy, and Contraception-Related Motivators and Barriers Among Latino and African-American Adolescents

July 5, 2002

This article is part of The Body PRO's archive. Because it contains information that may no longer be accurate, this article should only be considered a historical document.

The Journal of Sex Education recently released a study that examined prime motivators for early sexual involvement among Latino and African-American adolescents in Washington, DC. The study focused on teen attitudes toward pregnancy and contraception, as well as peer and family influences on young people's sexual behavior. Researchers tried to determine teens' preferred sources of information and advice on sexual health.


Researchers recruited approximately 90 African-American and Latino adolescents from areas in Washington D.C. that report high teen pregnancy rates. The participants were divided into clusters of four to 12 for group discussions. Each participant attended only one group session where moderators led involved discussions about sexual health and contraception. Each session lasted 90 minutes.

Before beginning the discussions, participants filled out anonymous questionnaires about their past sexual experiences and current behavior/feelings toward sexual intercourse, contraception, and pregnancy.

The participants were encouraged to talk about those sexual health issues that affected or intrigued them the most. Much of the discussion revolved around topics such as age of initial sexual activity, reason for such initiation, pregnancy, contraception, family influences, and where one should go to get reliable information about sex and sexual health. In order to be eligible for the study, applicants had to be between the ages of 14-17, could not be pregnant, and could not have any children.


Although male participants were included in the discussion groups, results regarding participants' sexual activity, involvement in pregnancy, and contraceptive use were only included for female participants.

Sexual Activity

  • 79% of female African-American participants reported prior sexual activity compared to 47% of the Latina participants.
  • 86% of sexually active African-American females and 75% of sexually active Latinas had initiated intercourse by age 15.
  • 59% of African-American female participants reported having more than one sexual partner in the previous year, compared to 25% of the Latina participants.
  • 36% of African-American female participants reported having had sexual intercourse by age 13, compared to 25% of Latina participants.


  • 15% of the African-American female participants and 25% of the Latinas reported prior pregnancies. Some of the female participants indicated that getting pregnant may be a strategy to gain approval or to keep a boyfriend.
  • The majority of African-American female participants believed that pregnancy did not hinder young women's studies, as opposed to the Latina participants who felt that motherhood and school were incompatible.
  • Both the African-American and Latino male groups agreed that pregnancy was undesirable and problematic.
  • None of the male participants thought pregnancy was necessarily catastrophic in terms of one's life plans.


  • 38% of Latina participants and 44% of African-American female participants who reported being sexually active indicated that they used birth control pills as a form of contraception.
  • Only 25% of Latina participants reported having previously used condoms, compared to 70% of African-American female participants.
  • 100% of the sexually active African-American participants reported using some form of birth control in previous sexual experiences, compared to 64% of sexually active Latina participants.
  • All of the female participants worried that birth control pills would automatically make them gain weight and develop varicose veins.

Barriers to Contraceptive Use

  • All of the participants said anecdotes passed down by friends/relatives about the ineffectiveness and detrimental side-effects of condoms and birth control pills discouraged them from consistently using birth control.
  • Most African-American participants, male and female, doubted that condoms were fully effective, commenting that they often break.

Sources of Sexuality Information

  • Most African-American female participants said they look to their friends or close female relatives to answer questions about sexual health and intercourse. Latina participants opted to go directly to healthcare professionals, such as doctors, nurses, or counselors for reliable advice.
  • The majority of both male and female participants felt that their teachers were too out of touch with contemporary youth culture to give accurate information regarding sexuality.
  • Most of the male and female participants were disappointed with the quality of sexual health education at school.
  • Latino participants expressed disappointment in their parents'/caregivers' efforts to talk about intercourse and sexual health, explaining that their parents/caregivers were unavailable to discuss sex and sexual health due to strict rules, cultural taboos, or a heavy work schedule.
  • When researchers questioned parents/caregivers about this particular issue, caregivers corroborated the young adults' claims, admitting that they avoided talking about intercourse and sexual health due to fear, religious tenets, or lack of time.


The researchers believe that these focus groups confirm national trends in adolescent sexual activity and contraceptive use, and emphasize the need to debunk myths about the effectiveness of contraceptives in preventing pregnancy and the spread of diseases. By encouraging the participants to select which topics to address during the focus group discussions, the study successfully targeted adolescents' most pressing concerns regarding sexual activity and contraception.

The authors suggest that this study signals the need for interventions that generate peer support for delaying sexual activity and pregnancy, correct misinformation about contraceptives, and encourage honest, open discussions about sexual health between adults and young people. The focus group data provided researchers with guideposts for the design of a successful pregnancy/STD prevention program. The researchers also concluded that parents also need training and advice on how to talk with their children about sex without embarrassment and without being judgmental.

Sigrid J. Aaron and Renee R. Jenkins, "Sex, Pregnancy, and Contraception-related Motivators and Barriers among Latino and African-American Youth in Washington, D.C.," Journal of Sex Education, vol.2, no.1, 2002, pp. 5-30.

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.


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