Objective: To investigate ethnic differences in onset of sexual intercourse among Hispanic/Mexican American and white adolescents based on acculturation.
Design/methods: Preprogram survey data from 7270 Hispanic or white teens in 7th to 12th grade involved in the Arizona Abstinence-Only Education Program were used to predict the probability of onset of sexual intercourse based on age, sex, family structure, program location, religiosity, free school lunch, grades, rural residence, acculturation, and ethnicity. Specific attention was given to the influence of acculturation among Hispanic teens. The primary language spoken by the respondents (English, Spanish, or both) was used as a proxy measure for acculturation.
Results: Hispanic youth were at a greater risk for experiencing onset of intercourse than white youth, while controlling for all other predictors (odds ratio [OR], 1.40 [95% confidence interval (CI), 1.21-1.63]). This risk was amplified for highly acculturated Hispanic teens (OR, 1.69 [95% CI, 1.43-1.99]). However, less acculturated Hispanic youth were actually less likely to have experienced first intercourse than white youth (OR, 0.59 [95% CI, 0.42-0.82]), English-speaking Hispanic youth (OR, 0.35 [95% CI, 0.25-0.49]), or bilingual Hispanic youth (OR, 0.45 [95% CI, 0.31-0.64]).
Conclusions: Low acculturation emerges as a significant protective factor while controlling for other social and cultural factors, in spite of the increased risk of initiating sexual intercourse for Hispanic teens overall. Hispanic Spanish speakers were least likely to have initiated intercourse, while Hispanic English speakers were the most likely.