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Black Youth Study
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Sexual Trends Among Low-Income Black Youth

For many low-income Black urban youth, sex is seen as little more than a transaction, and mainstream messages about sex, love, and relationships are having little impact in the inner city, according to a new report released by MEE (Motivational Educational Entertainment) Productions, in partnership with the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. This extraordinarily frank report, “This Is My Reality—The Price of Sex: An Inside Look at Black Urban Youth Sexuality,” summarizes findings from 40 focus groups conducted in 10 cities in 2002 and offers many sobering insights from low-income Black youth (ages 16-20) on their views about sex, relationships, pregnancy, abstinence, and marriage. The California Endowment and the Ford Foundation sponsored the report.

“These Black youth want—and need—to be heard, and we went into their communities and listened,” said MEE president Ivan Juzang. “For the most part, Black urban youth are not getting the information and guidance they need to make good choices about their sexual health. They view sex as a transaction, harbor little trust for each other, and believe that adults are contributing to the problem of early casual sex and pregnancy.”

In the United States 35 percent of girls get pregnant at least once by age 20. Despite recent declines, the U.S. still has the highest teen pregnancy and birth rates of any Western industrialized nation.

Some key findings from the report

Trust and communication are rare, and young Black girls in particular do not feel valued. In the focus groups males said that they don’t trust females, and females said that they don’t trust each other; many noted frequent relationships between young girls and adult men; and males and females both reported a high level of derogatory sexual terms used to describe women.

Becoming a teen parent seems more realistic than abstaining from sex, getting married, or having a successful future. Young people in the study report that they are growing up in environments in which sex is commonplace, marriage is rare, and teen parenthood is the norm. Teen parenthood carries little stigma; for many, having a child at an early age is seen as a positive step. Many young people believe that “everyone is doing it,” a message that they said was constantly reinforced by the media.

Parents can help, but they often don’t. Many in the study say that adults are contributing to the problem of early casual sex by (1) trying to act “young” and engaging in risky sexual behavior themselves, (2) offering overt or tacit approval for early sex, pregnancy, and parenthood, or (3) refusing to discuss sex and related issues with their children. Teens in the study agree with teens nationwide: their parents are their most preferred source of information about sex. “Regardless of income, race, or residence, the teens in this study—like all teens—want parental support and guidance but say that the adults often let them down.

The full report includes a literature review; interviews with 10 experts on sexuality, the media, and public health; and a media consumption and lifestyles survey of 2,000 African-American teens and young adults.

For more information The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy is providing a brief summary of the report that pulls out themes and findings that are most relevant to preventing teen pregnancy. Click here to view report:

This Is My Reality—The Price of Sex: An Inside Look at Black Urban Youth Sexuality

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By Bill Albert. Reprinted with persmission from Message Magazine, March 2004. Copyright © 2006 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

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