11 March 2010 ~ 0 Comments

Immigrant Youth Less Likely to Participate in Sexual Risk-Taking

Teenage pregnancies and risky sexual behavior is an accurate characterization of young Latino immigrants in the United States, right? Wrong, says a new study from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Discarding the prevalent white racial frame, Marcela Raffaelli, a University of Illinois professor of human and community development and co-author of a recently published chapter on Latino teen sexuality, tells us to exercise caution while trying to characterize gender roles and sexual behavior among Latino youth in the United States.

For starters, “Latino” is an umbrella term that covers more than 20 different groups with unique cultural, religious, and socio-economic backgrounds, from older affluent Cuban immigrants to recent Central American refugees. Raffaelli notes that the difference in teenage sexual behavior between Latinos and other groups largely disappears when adjusted for socioeconomic status and other demographic factors. Hence, cultural factors might not be the prime predictor of sexuality that many are led to believe by virtue of mainstream media headlines that posit teen pregnancies as largely a problem for the Latino or Hispanic community.

Moreover, right-wingers trying to hyper-sexualize and characterize Latina immigrants as welfare queens should note that immigrants are less likely than their U.S.-born counterparts to engage in risky sexual behavior and have teen pregnancies despite confronting more challenging situations. After all, immigrant families tend to focus more on working hard and gaining ground in the United States, with little time to tolerate “hanky-panky” business. So, naturally, first generation adolescents actually “do better in school, get into less trouble, have fewer early pregnancies and so on.” It is not until the second or third generations that the protective effects of immigration status dissipates.

Based on the merits of the study alone and purely around sexual risk-taking, placing a bet on immigrant teenagers might draw bigger returns than doing so on their more assimilated U.S.-born counterparts.

Photo Credit: Polina Sergeeva

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