Many teens who don't use condoms despite knowing the risks of unprotected sex do so because they fear reduced pleasure or their partner's disapproval, a recent study led by Brown University researchers found.
The study, published in the currentissue of Public Health Reports, showed that teens who engage in unprotected sexual activity tend to believe that condoms reduce sexual pleasure. They also show a disinclination to talk about protection with their partners, researchers found.
"The facts about being susceptible to AIDS, HIV and pregnancy are well known, but it's not strictly a factual issue," said Larry Brown, the study's lead author and a professor of psychiatry and human behavior at the Alpert Medical School.
Condom use is widely recognized as a good habit, like wearing a seat belt or following a healthy diet, Brown said, but that recognition doesn't always translate into action.
Adults are more likely than teens to be comfortable and assertive while discussing protection because they see condoms as a "normal healthy part of a relationship" and "have gotten more into a pattern," he said. Developing this habit is more difficult for teens because our society sends them a "schizophrenic" message about sex, he added.
Teens are frequently exposed to sex by the media in a society that often stigmatizes the act, particularly through abstinence-only education, Brown said.
"Change really requires that our society in every way becomes more consistent with their message about sex to teenagers," Brown said. Clinicians also have roles to play, he said, such as encouraging teens to improve communication with their partners or advising them on condom brands that offer both comfort and sensation.
Among Brown's co-authors were two other Med School faculty members: Assistant Professor of Pediatrics David Pugatch and Celia Lescano, assistant professor of psychiatry and human behavior.
The study surveyed 1,410 people ages 15 to 21 who did not use protection during sex in the preceding 90 days. The participant pool, drawn in part from Providence, included 797 females and 613 males.
The survey also included residents of Atlanta and Miami. About half identified themselves as black, a quarter Hispanic and a fifth Caucasian.
Respondents reported an average of two partners and 15 unprotected sexual engagements in the previous 90 days. About two-thirds reported they hadn't used a condom the last time they had sex.
The study's findings were consistent across ethnic groups, gender and geographic locations.