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Friday, February 15, 2002

Lethal Combination
A new survey of young people has confirmed what most of us already knew intuitively-that there is a strong relationship between substance abuse and irresponsible sex. Now we have the social science research to prove it. The study, conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation and reported at a conference sponsored by the National Center of Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA), found that almost a quarter (23 percent) of sexually active teenagers and young adults report having had unprotected sex because they were using alcohol or drugs at the time. Researchers surveyed nearly 1,000 adolescents and young adults between the ages of 15 and 24 about their sexual attitudes and practices, and found that substance abuse and sexual activity often go hand in hand, although it was not entirely clear which activity comes first. Citing an item in a 1988 issue of Family Planning Perspectives (F.L. Mott and R.J. Haurin, Linkages Between Sexual Activity and Alcohol and Drug Use Among American Adolescents, Family Planning Perspectives, 1988, vol. 20), the survey report states, “Substance use increases the probability that an adolescent will initiate sexual activity, and relatedly, sexually experienced adolescents are more likely to initiate substance use.” In addition to unprotected sex, substance abuse is also associated with early initiation of sexual activity and multiple sexual partners. All three of these factors put young people at much higher risk of contracting a sexually transmitted disease (STD) or having an unintended pregnancy.

Some 88 percent of those surveyed report that people their age drink or use drugs at least “sometimes” before engaging in sexual activity, and half of those surveyed said that this happens “a lot.” More than 7 in 10 young people say that condoms are often not used when alcohol and drugs are involved. A higher percentage of girls than boys (79 percent vs. 65 percent) report that their peers are engaging in unprotected sex under the influence of drugs and alcohol. When questioned about their own sexual activity some 29 percent of those surveyed report that they have themselves gone farther sexually than they otherwise would have because they were using alcohol or drugs at the time.

These findings indicate that sexual coercion, facilitated by alcohol and drugs, is a major factor in sexual activity among young people. Therefore, the picture of sexual activity among young people today is anything but the carefree “free love” scenario painted by the 60’s generation. The real picture that emerges from this survey and others is one of irresponsible behavior that puts one’s health and one’s heart at great risk of breaking. It also paints an ugly picture of sexual coercion, especially of girls by boys. Responsible advocates of abstinence outside of marriage do recognize that the concept of “abstinence” must encompass all forms of irresponsible behavior, not sex only, to be effective. Advocates of comprehensive sex education must come to terms with the notion that sex outside of marriage is itself a form of irresponsible behavior that goes hand in hand with other irresponsible behaviors and may actually encourage them.

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