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Whether the effect of gender on the risk of first intercourse is influenced by adolescents' ethnicity has received limited attention in research on age at first sex. Such information could provide a more complete understanding of adolescent sexual behavior. Life-table analysis using data from a population-based, ethnically diverse sample of Los Angeles County youths was employed to estimate the median age at first sex for each gender-and-ethnicity group. Multivariate analysis using proportional hazards techniques was conducted to determine the relative risk of sexual activity among teenagers in each group.

Overall, the teenagers in the sample had a median age at first sex of Black males had the lowest observed median Hispanic and Asian American females had rates of first sex about half that of white females, although these protective effects were explained by differences in family structure. Even after controlling for background characteristics, black males had rates of first sex that were about times the rates of the other gender-and-ethnicity groups.

In addition, Asian American males were less likely than Hispanic males to be sexually experienced, and Hispanic males had almost twice the rates of sexual activity of Hispanic females. Socioeconomic conditions for ethnic differences among females in the age at first sex, and cultural influences may contribute to the difference between Hispanic males and females; explanations for black males, however, remain elusive. An individual's first sexual intercourse is embedded with multiple personal and social meanings.

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For adolescents, it contributes to redefining one's identity from child to developing teenager and reconfigures important interpersonal relationships, including those with peers, parents and sexual intimates. Numerous factors influence the initiation of sexual activity—individual and familial characteristics, 6 as well as such larger social forces as community and peer influences.

Indeed, the social and cultural meanings of being sexually active, as well as normative proscriptions and prescriptions about the timing of first sex, vary to a great extent according to a youth's gender and ethnicity. Most research has concentrated on females, partly because national fertility studies interview only females and because of the historical interest in teenage pregnancy. However, studies that have included both males and females have consistently shown gender differences in the age at first sexual experience.

Theoretical explanations of ethnic differences in age at first sex tend to emphasize economic and sociocultural influences. Furstenberg and colleagues outline three possible explanations for observed ethnic differences. This argument suggests that reducing the ethnic differentials in socioeconomic conditions would attenuate the relationship between ethnicity and age at first sex.

This interpretation suggests that ethnic variation in age at first sex would be reduced if differentials in social conditions were taken into. Furstenberg and colleagues find limited support for the first two explanations and stronger support for the one characterized by subgroup differences in attitudes and norms regarding sexual activity. Few studies using nationally representative data have included Hispanics. Furthermore, although Hispanics are heterogeneous with regard to national origin, few national data sets contain samples large enough to allow for comparisons within Hispanic subgroups.

One exception, an analysis of data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, found that age at first intercourse varies between Mexican Americans and other Hispanics. Furthermore, few studies have comprehensively compared differences in age at first sex for both genders and across multiple ethnic groups.

Although a recent analysis using data from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey YRBS estimated age at first sex by gender and ethnicity, 20 only three ethnic groups were compared: blacks, non-Hispanic whites and a heterogeneous grouping of Hispanics. Also, no variables other than ethnicity were included in the descriptive analysis.

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Finally, no statistical tests were performed to determine the ificance of the association between gender, ethnicity and age at first sex. The majority of studies that have examined both gender and ethnic effects on the timing of first intercourse have stratified the data according to gender, 21 thereby preventing any comparison of ethnic effects across gender e.

The purpose of this article is to estimate the effects of youths' gender and ethnicity on their risk of first sexual intercourse. We test both the main effects of each on the risk of first sex and the extent to which the effects of gender are conditioned by adolescents' ethnicity. We also include family background characteristics known to be associated with age at first sex family structure and socioeconomic status to ascertain the extent to which the observed gender or ethnic differences are due to variations in family background.

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Our data come from a population-based sample of Los Angeles County youths. Los Angeles is one of the largest and most ethnically, culturally and economically diverse counties in the country. We analyze data from a longitudinal survey of stress and mental health conducted among a representative sample of Los Angeles County youths aged The first round of the survey took place between October and Apriland the second between March and May The sample was selected using a census-based sampling frame and is therefore more diverse than a convenience sample or one drawn from a small of schools.

Yet its regional nature allows us to analyze gender and ethnic effects within a more uniform set of social and cultural contexts than would be possible using a national sample. Participants were selected from a multistage, area probability sampling frame of Los Angeles County, based on census tracts, blocks and households. County census tracts were stratified according to socioeconomic status, ethnicity and the proportion of households with children.

A total of 49 tracts were selected, with the probability of selection proportional to size. Blocks were selected randomly within tracts, every address on selected blocks was listed and household addresses were selected at fixed intervals with a random start. Fieldworkers went door-to-door to determine whether an adolescent aged was a permanent resident at the address.

They ascertained the ages of household members before identifying the target ages, to avoid bias due to the selective omission of eligible persons as a means of avoiding participation in the study. In households that included two or more teenagers, the one whose birthday would occur soonest after the interview was selected. Consent was obtained from the adolescents and their parents. Lay interviewers trained specifically for this investigation conducted each interview at the respondent's home or in a private setting of the teenager's choice.

Interviews were conducted in English or Spanish, and the ethnicity of the interviewer was matched to the major ethnicity in the neighborhood. The Spanish questionnaire was a verified translation of the English version. Supervisory personnel randomly monitored interviews. Characteristics for the initial sample correspond closely to census data for gender and age. To adjust for some variations in age across ethnic groups, we weighted the sample to match the census distribution by ethnicity and to be evenly distributed by single year of age.

Weights also adjust for variability in selection probabilities resulting from the presence of households with several eligible adolescents. The application of these weights compensates for threats to external validity inherent in teenagers' nonparticipation. On average, the adolescents in the sample were We excluded a small of respondents who reported having had their first heterosexual intercourse prior to age 11, because the circumstances with respect to sexual activity are unique for those who have sex at such a young age.

The descriptive statistics are based on the weighted analytic sample of For the multivariate analysis, are based on the unweighted sample.

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Our dependent variable is the of months from exact age 11 to first heterosexual intercourse. We obtained this information by asking respondents if they had ever had sexual intercourse and, if so, how many months ago they had first had sex. These questions were asked in both the original survey and the follow-up interview. We developed a small of coding rules that ed for the vast majority of discrepancies in reports between the two surveys. Given the sensitive nature of questions regarding sexual activity, we incorporated a of steps to minimize potential biases.

Procedures to maximize overall de validity and reliability included conducting interviews in private settings that the respondents found comfortable, training interviewers in techniques for handling potentially awkward or embarrassing questions, and having supervisors closely monitor interviewers. Also, the questions on sexual behavior were asked midway through the interview, after numerous sensitive questions had been asked about the adolescent's personal life, emotions, family and so forth.

Furthermore, the survey content dealt primarily with stress and mental health, avoiding potential selection bias on the basis of prior sexual behavior. The two primary independent variables of interest are gender and ethnicity. According to the conceptualization developed by O'Sullivan-See and Wilson, 23 ethnicity is embodied in shared beliefs, norms, values and preferences that vary together.

We measured ethnicity by asking a set of questions regarding how respondents identify themselves. The first question was: "In Los Angeles, people come from many different cultural backgrounds. The first question proved sufficient to establish the respondent's ethnicity; only 24 additional teenagers identified themselves as Hispanic on the basis of the second question, and these respondents were included in the first category they mentioned.

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In general, we expected blacks to report younger ages at first sex than whites, Hispanics or Asian Americans. In addition, we expected the effects of gender on age at first sex to depend on the youth's ethnicity. For example, females may not be less likely than males to have sex in all ethnic groups.

We also included several indices of youths' socioeconomic and family background. Family structure was coded into four : living with both biological parents, living with a single parent in this sample, almost exclusively the motherliving in a stepfamily and other situations for the most part, with family members other than parents. As with much past research, we expected to see higher rates of first sex among those living in a single-parent situation than among those living with both biological parents.

The analysis also included mother's education coded as high school dropout, high school graduate or at least some college and household income coded into quartiles. Both the descriptive and the multivariate analysis were based on survival analysis techniques, for two reasons. First, we expected the risk of initiation of sexual activity to increase as adolescents get older. Second, since the majority of individuals in the sample were still very young at the time of the second interview, many still had not had sex by then i.

We used Kaplan-Meier life tables to analyze the effects of each independent variable on the timing of first sexual experience. These estimates are nonparametric and are therefore not subject to biases due to violations of distributional assumptions of the underlying hazard.

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Since the of events is quite small at later intervals, we used the generalized Wilcoxon test to examine homogeneity across the of covariates; we also examined homogeneity using the log-rank test. The multivariate analysis was based on a proportional hazards model that does not assume any specific functional form for the baseline hazard. We tested for proportionality by visually inspecting the log-log survival function plotted for every category of each independent variable.

The ratio measures the rate of transition to first sex among teenagers in a given category relative to those in a comparison category, other factors held constant. Overall, the teenagers surveyed reported a median age at first intercourse of Males reported a ificantly younger age than females ificant ethnic differences also were apparent: Blacks reported the youngest median age at first intercourse In addition, adolescents living with both biological parents reported a later median age at first intercourse There were no ificant differences in the age at first sex according to household income or mother's education.

These bivariate findings provide preliminary evidence that gender and ethnicity each influence the timing of first sexual experience. However, these relationships express only the gross main, or average, effects. When we recomputed the medians for each gender-and-ethnicity combination, ificant differences emerged across ethnic groups for each gender Table 2. Among males, blacks reported the youngest median age at first sex Age at first sexual experience did not vary as much by ethnicity for females, although we did find ificant differences.

White and black females reported younger median ages at sexual initiation Life-table medians could not be computed for Asian American or other females because too few of these women had had sex. We could, however, calculate that one-quarter of Asian American females had had sex by Several groups reported very similar median ages at first sex about The two most striking deviations are the relative lack of sexual experience among Asian American youths, particularly females, and the comparatively early onset of first sex among black males approximately years earlier than among any females or other males.

These findings offer some support for the hypothesis that the effect of gender on median age at first sex is dependent on ethnicity, and that the variation across ethnic groups is greater for males than for females. To test for relative differences in the effects of the interaction between gender and ethnicity on the timing of first intercourse, we conducted two multivariate analyses, using proportional hazard techniques. In the first, we estimated the gross effects for each gender-and-ethnicity category; in the second, we estimated the net effects of each, controlling for differences in family background characteristics.

Teenagers in the "other" ethnicity category were excluded from the analysis because that category was small and very heterogeneous. Compared with white females, black males had a ificantly higher rate of first sex risk ratio, —Table 3. Both Hispanic and Asian American females had ificantly lower rates of sexual activity than white females risk ratios, 0.

Adding family background characteristics to the calculations ificantly improved the fit of the model goodness-of-fit chi-square, These suggest that part of the observed effect in the first regression analysis may be explained by family structure. Indeed, correlations between gender-and-ethnicity groups and family structure were ificant for several of these groups not shown. For example, being a black male was ificantly and negatively correlated with living with both biological parents, and was ificantly and positively correlated with living in a single-parent or other type of household.

Therefore, the reason that black males have first intercourse so young is partly that they are ificantly more likely to be living in family situations that also increase their risk of becoming sexually active. Nevertheless, even when family characteristics were taken into consideration, black males initiated sexual intercourse relatively early.

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Family structure was strongly associated with youths' risk of sexual activity, in the expected directions, even when ethnicity, gender and family socioeconomic status were taken into consideration. Confirming the findings of many prior studies, youths living with one parent had ificantly higher rates of first sex than those living with both biological parents risk ratio, 1. Youths living in stepfamilies also had elevated rates of first sex 2. Analyses performed separately for each gender yielded very similar for males and females not shown.

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Sexual Intercourse and the Age Difference Between Adolescent Females and Their Romantic Partners