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New Teen Risk Behavior Uncovered

Medical News Today, August 16, 2006

Nearly 650,000 American teens have exchanged sex for drugs or money, new research has revealed. About two- thirds of them are boys.

Researchers aren't certain how many of these events are what's commonly considered to be prostitution, because the study found that the median number of times that youth had exchanged sex was only one. The PIRE study is the first of its kind on this behavior among teens. It examined a long-range, nationally representative survey of 13,000 students in 7th through 12th grades and found that nearly 4 percent had exchanged sex for drugs or money.

"While some teens may have engaged in sex exchange as a matter of survival on the streets, it is possible that many have engaged in this behavior for other reasons," said lead researcher Jessica Edwards, Ph.D., a research scientist at PIRE Chapel Hill Center. "We've just begun to learn about a risk behavior that hasn't been examined in the general population of youth, and the circumstances around it are not yet clear."

Sex exchange appears to be a marker for other harmful behaviors and negative health outcomes, Edwards said. The likelihood of exchanging sex was greater among adolescents who had run away from home, were depressed, and had prior drug use. Sex exchange was also associated with sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. Fifteen percent of boys and 20 percent of girls who had exchanged sex for drugs or money said they had been told by a doctor or nurse that they had a sexually transmitted infection.

Now that this health risk has been exposed, more research is needed to better understand it. "We need to understand the motivations underlying sex exchanges, where they occur, and who the partners are," Edwards said. "Improving our understanding of this issue is important because a considerable number of youth have engaged in this behavior, and a lot of serious threats to teens' health are associated with it."

The present study, which has been published online in advance of print publication in Sexually Transmitted Infections, was funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The data are from waves I and II of the National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent Health ( http://www.cpc.unc.edu/addhealth).

PIRE, or Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, is a national nonprofit public health research institute funded mostly by federal science grants and contracts with centers in eight U.S. cities.

For more information, to arrange an interview with the author, or to obtain a copy of the study, contact Jim Gogek at (888) 846-PIRE or jgogek@pire.org.

Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation
http://www.cpc.unc.edu/addhealth