Objectives: Adolescents are increasingly at risk for infection with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and other sexually transmitted diseases, especially in poor urban minority communities. To aid the design of interventions in these communities, this study investigated the role of knowledge, attitudes, perceived parental monitoring, and peer behavior in the onset and progression of sexual behavior in children at risk for exposure to HIV.
Methods: A computerized personal interview was administered to 300 African-American 9- to 15-year-old children living in six public housing developments in a large US city.
Results: Although children's knowledge about the hazards of sex increased with age, their sexual activity also increased (from 12% sexually experienced at 9 years of age to more than 80% experienced at 15 years of age). Parental monitoring appeared able to influence sexual activity. However, the perceived behavior of friends was associated with the rate at which sexual activity progressed with age and the degree to which condom use was maintained with age.
Conclusions: The early onset and prevalence of sexual behavior and the importance of peer group influence call for early interventions that simultaneously influence the parents and peers in children's social networks.