Are Latino teens sexual risk takers?

From Science Daily:

“When a recent documentary about U.S. Latinos featured two teen mothers in a 90-minute program, the Latino students in my classes thought it was an unbalanced portrayal of their community — and they were right!” said Marcela Raffaelli, a U of I professor of human and community development and co-author of a recently published chapter on Latino teen sexuality.

National surveys do show that Latino young people as a group are less likely than their non-Latino peers to use condoms and birth control and are more likely to become pregnant and have a child. But these statistics hide a much more complicated picture, she said.

For one thing, Latinos represent more than 20 different groups, and they live in very different situations in the United States.

“For example, Cuban immigrants who moved to the United States when Castro came to power tended to be very wealthy, and they created an entrepreneurial, successful enclave in Miami. Compare them with Central American immigrants who may be refugees from a civil war in the 1980s. Language, religion, and some aspects of culture are apt to be the same, but socioeconomic status is probably very different, and that’s a big predictor of early sexual activity and teen pregnancy,” Raffaelli said. Read more…

Love Isn’t Enough columnist Bianca Laureano comments:

This article popped up in my Twitter timeline as well as in my inbox. Folks began asking me what my thoughts were about the findings that Latino youth take more “sexual risks” than originally believed. There have been multiple articles about this one piece of literature. You can read the original that was published (not in full, but 90%) here
The first thing that came to mind was the date of publication. The text this article comes from was published in 2009. That means that some of the research was conducted a while ago, if not a decade ago. Many of the citations that are used and some of the longitudinal statistics are from data that was collected over 5 years ago. So what does this mean? Well it means that we’ve known of this for a while, yet there are still problematic and ineffective programs and efforts being funded in various capacities that do NOT reach Latino youth for various reasons. It also proves that there is still this idea that all Latinos are the same without understanding our differences.

We’ve talked a lot here on LIE about how problematic it is to view, to quote commenter mgummere: “the continent of Africa as a unified monolithic landmass from whence all black Americans.”   This same approach is problematic for all over the world. I actually do not like being lumped with a group of people because of our history of colonization, but that is just my preference, and I know there are more differences than similarities. Call me a Pan-Africanist and Pan-Americanist, but I recognize that some Pan-American ideologies are rooted in denying African identity and heritage, and, well, that’s basically denying all of me and I can’t do it.   (And if anyone knows of a term that recognizes both pan-African and pan-American identities please let me know because my community of practice does not know of any such term).

My main issues of concern revolve around how assimilation/acculturation is discussed, gendered conversations, and the self-identified/voluntary disclosure/classification as “Latino.” I think of how limiting this term is and who is excluded in this term. I also have a problem with the fact that sexual assault and violence is not addressed in the article as one way that “sexual risk taking” may be higher for some Latinos. There is an assumption that all “sexual risk taking” is consensual and I just don’t think it is.

I’ll be writing more about this in a few places, either on my personal blog, in my Media Justice column, or on VivirLatino (or all three!). So check back to those sites for my latest and more extensive thoughts!

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About Tami

Tami Winfrey Harris writes about race, feminism, politics and pop culture at the blog What Tami Said. Her work has also appeared online at The Guardian’s Comment is Free, Ms. Magazine blog, Newsweek,, Huffington Post and Racialicious. She is a graduate of the Iowa State University Greenlee School of Journalism. She is mom to two awesome stepkids and spends her spare time researching her family history and cultivating a righteous 'fro.
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