Study: Latinos change as they learn English
HOUSTON - As Hispanic teens shed the language of their native countries and immerse themselves in American culture, they become dramatically more sexually active, a new study shows.
A review of 7,300 Arizona teenagers' behavior found that 31 percent of Hispanics who speak primarily English have had sex, more than twice the percentage of those who speak primarily Spanish, 14 percent.
The key question - why? - remains unanswered.
"I wish I knew," said the study's lead author, Dr. Mary Adam, a pediatrics researcher at the University of Arizona's College of Medicine. "This is certainly something we are continuing to explore."
The new study, published in this month's Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, adds evidence to the so-called healthy immigrant paradox, that Hispanics coming to the United States are healthier than second- and third-generation U.S. residents from the same countries.
Various research has found that less Americanized Hispanic children have healthier diets, better immunization rates, fewer suicide attempts, and decreased use of tobacco, alcohol and drugs compared with more Americanized adolescents.
Some researchers have attributed the importance of family in Hispanic culture and the high regard for parental roles as playing a part in protecting health, as well as the social support from a large family. But there is not a broad consensus yet in the medical and sociological communities studying these questions.
Dr. Peggy Smith, a professor at Baylor College of Medicine and director of Ben Taub Hospital's Teen Health Clinic, said she believes she knows at least partly why Hispanic adolescents become more sexually active after living in the United States.
Hispanic children who come to this country become immersed in a culture that is more permissive about sex, Smith said - chaperons are not uncommon on dates in Mexico. Beyond that, because of an increasing focus on abstinence, there is less information available about birth control than in most other industrialized countries.
"As a culture, we have problems with openly discussing the whens and ifs of sex with our children," Smith said. "This is one of the outcomes of that."