Friday, October 30, 2009

Girls at "Weight Extremes" Less Likely to Practice Safer Sex

Oh, dear, although this does make sense considering our current cultural climate. Apparently, girls at "weight extremes" in other words overweight and underweight girls who are sexually active are LESS likely to engage in safer sex practices, specifically to demand condom usage, than "normal weight" sexually active girls.

The study (found HERE) finds that sexual risk taking is predictive by actual or perceived weight. Some of the findings include:

  • Caucasian girls who believed that they were underweight, whether accurate or not, were more likely to have had sex and to have had four or more sexual partners. Overweight Caucasian girls were less likely to use condoms.
  • Underweight African-American girls also were less likely to use condoms while overweight African-American girls reported four or more sexual partners.
  • Latina girls of all weights were more likely to engage in a wide variety of sexual risk behaviors -- lack of condom or oral contraception use, sex before age 13, greater than four sexual partners and use of alcohol.
Dr. Akers, the lead researcher, noted: "This study will contribute to sexual health education prevention efforts, which can be tailored to address how cultural norms regarding body size may influence adolescent sexual decision making. Knowing how a girl perceives her weight may be just as important as knowing her actual weight."

Weight and self-esteem are linked, this we know. Self-esteem is crucial for women and girls to insist on safer sex practices and to advocate for their own reproductive health as well as pregnancy planning and prevention. Some might take this study and say "yet another fallout of the obesity crisis" but that's bunk. The answer isn't more pressure to conform to a perfect size (for both the skinnier than average girls and the over weight girls), but to stress self-esteem development, accurate and sensible comprehensive sex education that includes life-planning skills--nothing can destroy a girls educational or economic prospects like an unplanned pregnancy and teen motherhood (less than 3% go on to finish a 4 year college degree by age 30 and only around 33% graduate from High School--teen motherhood is a recipe for poverty).

Of course comprehensive sex education is crucial for both boys and girls, but it is important to remember that girls carry (literally and figurative) most of the burden of unplanned pregnancy and that often the fathers of teen girls children are adult males, men typically five years older than their teenage baby-mamma. So, yes, a very specific kind of sex education that relates to body image needs to be used with girls. I think that separating the sexes in High School for some portions of a sex ed curriculum could be useful when discussing these gender specific anxieties and problems. And after the gang rape of that poor 15 year old girl by 10 boys in Richmond, California (with up to ten more witnesses who did NOTHING), I think that a rape and domestic violence prevention program is necessary in our schools written specifically for males. I'm not saying that the teacher will call all of your precious, darling boy children rapists (which is often the outcry one hears from parents of boys when they hear "rape prevention education" but that rape culture and "boys will be boys" memes should be discussed with young males to help them call out the everyday misogyny their experience/participate in.

Any who--lets hope that this study will help comprehensive sex educators better teach their subjects and that science based sex ed becomes the norm once again. I feel so sorry for those kids today who will (are) facing greater teen pregnancy levels and STD/STI rates due to the ABSOLUTE failure of Abstinence Only Education that had factual errors and lies at its core. Of course I don't want kids to have sex before they are able to handle a healthy sexuality (that means mutual pleasure and respect) as well as STD/STI prevention and pregnancy prevention--and generally I think that is possible after age 18 or so, and Comprehensive Sex Education should cover that (it doesn't mean that Liberals think Kindgarteners should start having origies like some of the Abstinence only people have implied). But most of all, it needs to be accurate and health oriented.

1 comment:

  1. I agree with you and the findings. If you don't have self-esteem and self power you will but unable to standup for your sexual desires, health decisions, or legal rights if attacked. So I say we have to work on the mind of young people.