UT research into Latina teen pregnancy rates in Texas shows little difference between attitudes in different ethnic groups about the best time to have a first child, about talking to kids about sex and about contraception.
The Texas Department of State Health Services funded the research done by UT’s Population Research Center in the summer of 2009. The study included Latino, black and white youths and parent focus groups.
Kristine Hopkins, research assistant sociology professor and research associate at the Population Research Center, led the study. She said the research team wanted to understand why Latinas have significantly higher rates of teen pregnancy; three times that of white teens.
“I think the stronger argument is they have structural barriers that prevent them from achieving their reproductive goals of having their first child when they are emotionally and financially stable,” Hopkins said.
She said examples of these barriers include lack of insurance and lower levels of education.
Texas youths experience a lot of barriers to using contraceptives consistently, Hopkins said.
According to the study, “these include fears that parents or other adults will find out the teen is sexually active, embarrassment about asking for or buying contraception, and fears of side effects.”
“One thing that really struck me is the embarrassment of going to buy condoms,” Hopkins said.
In low-income areas, where teen pregnancy rates are more likely to be higher, condoms are sometimes kept behind the counter to reduce theft. Hopkins said some youths reported getting dirty looks from the clerk when they asked for the condoms.
Unlike parents within other ethnic groups, the study found that Spanish-speaking Latino parents expressed a desire to get help to better explain sex, healthy relationships and contraception to their children. Hopkins said each parent group expressed interest in speaking with their kids about sex, but Spanish-speaking Latino parents want help with the appropriate language to do so.
“They expressed a desire to take courses from the school or the community to learn how to talk to their kids,” Hopkins said.
Joseph Lariscy, sociology graduate student and Population Research Center trainee, worked on the study as a research assistant and said there’s a disconnect between parents and their children when they discuss sex. He said Spanish-speaking Latino parents tend to be traditional in their communication.
“They would talk about values and respecting the body as opposed to the physiology,” Lariscy said.
He said the overall results, which show few differences in attitude between different ethnic groups, surprised the research team.
Lariscy said the findings show “what it’s like to grow up in Texas.”