Washington, Jan 17 : A new research conducted by the University of Chicago Medical Center has found that Latinas' have a strong sense of personal control over their sexual behaviours which strongly influences their decision on when to first engage in sex.
Having a personal control over ones sexual behaviour appeared to be the strongest factor, which influenced delay. The Latina women's own strong beliefs regarding timing of first sexual intercourse may outweigh the influence of family, friends, and partners.
The correlation between a young Latina's decision about when to first initiate sexual activity and her family's expectations, are high, as seen in the study.
"Both personal control and family expectations had a very important role in delaying early initiation of sex," said study author Melissa Gilliam, MD, MPH, section chief of Family Planning at the University of Chicago Medical Center.
"If the daughter perceived that her family felt her education was important, then it led her to delay sex," she added.
To determine the most appropriate survey questions, which are relevant to the culture and experience of the young Latina population, Gilliam and her colleagues conducted seven focus groups.
They created the survey in both English and Spanish and gave them to a separate group of 270 Latinas, between the ages of 17 and 25. The age at the time of sexual initiation ranged from 12 to 24 with 16.15 years as the mean.
The study also found a strong correlation with the young woman's mother's age at first pregnancy and the age of the young woman's first sexual partner. The greater the age difference between the woman and her older partner, the more likely she was to engage in sex at an earlier age.
This study on the sexual attitudes of a specific population is unique because researchers used focus groups to develop the survey questions. If they had found that other factors influenced behaviour then they would have included questions on those subjects.
"If focus group participants had said that music played a big role in their behaviours or drug use or gangs, then those topics would be in the model," Gilliam said.
Even though the sexual activity rate is lower than the African-American and white adolescents, the Latina population has a higher rate of teen pregnancy, statistics revealed, because the Latinas are less likely to use contraception the first time they have sex.
"There are these health disparities that very much track along racial, ethnic lines," Gilliam said.
It was seen that many times researchers presuppose the questions that should be asked and design questionnaires based on those suppositions, said Gilliam, whose work identifies populations most at risk for unintended pregnancy and ways to improve education.
"They're often not rooted in the belief systems of a population. If we're serious about doing research in understudied populations, especially with adolescents, we want to start moving away from cultural comparisons," she said.
"We want to start thinking about questions that are culturally appropriate for the group being studied," she concluded.
The research was reported in the November 07 issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health.