Substance use and risky sexual behavior among homeless and runaway youth

J Adolesc Health. 1998 Dec;23(6):378-88. doi: 10.1016/s1054-139x(98)00033-0.


Purpose: To (a) characterize human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)-related risk behaviors of homeless youth; (b) determine whether substance use is associated with risky sexual behavior in this population; and, if so, (c) explore explanations for this relationship.

Methods: A purposive sample of 327 homeless youth (ages 14-21 years) in Washington, DC, were surveyed in 1995 and 1996. Survey items were adapted from items used in a national study of adult substance use and sexual behavior and measured global (lifetime) and event-specific (most recent sexual encounter) behaviors.

Results: Sexual activity with many partners, "survival" sex, and substance use were common. However, needle use was rare, and consistent condom use was evident in half the sample. Nearly all correlations between global measures of substance use and risky sex were statistically significant, but only a few of the event-specific correlations were significant. Marijuana use during the most recent sexual encounter was associated with nonuse of condoms, but this relationship disappeared in the multivariate model. However, crack use during the last encounter was associated with condom use; this relationship remained significant in the multivariate model. Lack of motivation to use condoms, longer histories of sexual activity and homelessness, symptoms of drug dependency, not discussing HIV risks with partner, and being female were also associated with nonuse of condoms.

Conclusions: Homeless youth do use condoms, even within the context of substance use and casual sex. Results suggest that prevention and targeted intervention efforts have had some positive effect on this population, but young homeless women are in need of targeted prevention. Finally, additional research is needed to investigate the observed relationship between crack use and condom use in this sample.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior / psychology*
  • Adult
  • Condoms
  • Female
  • HIV Infections / transmission*
  • Homeless Youth*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Risk-Taking*
  • Sexual Behavior / statistics & numerical data*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / epidemiology*