- Early Sexual Initiation and HIV Awareness among Asian American Adolescents
In 2008 roughly 13.5 million u.s. residents identified themselves as Asian; of that number, approximately 25 percent (3.4 million) were younger than nineteen.1 The Asian adolescent population is projected to increase by more than 83 percent by 2020, representing the most rapid growth among all racial and ethnic groups in the United States.2 Although Asians represent one of the fastest growing minority groups, there is still a lack of research that examines health-related issues within the Asian American community. For example, Ghosh found that less than 1 percent (1,499 articles out of 10 million) of all medical studies published in the past four decades focused on Asian Americans.3 Similarly, Chen documented that Asians have the lowest percentage of baseline data on health indicators of any racial/ethnic group.4
This dearth of literature may be attributed to a number of reasons, including the fact that Asian adults and adolescents have historically constituted a small proportion of the total U.S. population. Asian respondents are often too few numerically to facilitate meaningful statistical analyses within national-level samples. For example, although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) regularly monitors health-risk behaviors among youth and young adults of all racial and ethnic backgrounds, the CDC publishes findings only on whites, blacks, and Hispanics within its biennial Youth Risk and Behavior Survey reports. The “other” category, [End Page 299] which includes Asians, Native Americans and Alaskans, Pacific Islanders, Hawaiians, and multiracial individuals (this group represented 8.4 percent of the Youth Risk and Behavior sample in 2008–9) is consistently omitted from further analyses due to limited sample sizes.
It is also possible that the lack of health-related research on Asian Americans is linked—albeit to what degree is still unknown—to the “model minority myth.” Under the lens of this particular discourse, Asians are often stereotyped as hardworking, successful, law-abiding, and free of social problems.5 Unfortunately, however, this exaggerated image of success does not come without a cost; Asians Americans are often excluded from various educational and social programs.6 Moreover, from a research standpoint, some social scientists may perceive Asian Americans as no longer constituting a minority group who experience significant social and economic disadvantage. When viewed as a “nonproblem” group, there may be less incentive or justification among social scientists to investigate social issues involving Asian Americans.7 As a result, our understanding on such topics as alcohol and drug use, sexual practices, and HIV awareness among Asian adolescents remains limited.
Contrary to the “model minority myth,” Asian adolescents do not exist in a social vacuum when it comes to engaging in risky sexual behaviors. For example, 27 percent of Asian youth—both males and females—have had sexual intercourse before graduating from high school.8 Once sexually active, Asian adolescents are just as likely as their white, black, and Hispanic counterparts to have used drugs or alcohol at the time of last intercourse.9 Asian youth were also documented to be significantly less likely than their non-Asian counterparts to report using condoms at first intercourse.10 These types of risk-taking behaviors associated with early sexual initiation—drug and alcohol use, not using a condom—can lead to substantial consequences such as increased risk of HIV infection.11 Although Asians tend to have the lowest number of HIV/AIDS cases, the number of new cases has risen steadily over the past few years.12 Studies have consistently shown that compared to their non-Asian peers, Asian youth have less overall knowledge about HIV transmission and are often more adverse to talking openly about issues involving sexual behavior.13 This lack of knowledge—in combination with early and risky sexual [End Page 300] initiation/behavior—may unfortunately lead to a burgeoning HIV/AIDS problem within the Asian American community.
Given the limited scope of medical research on Asian Americans, there remains a dearth of literature that examines the determinants of engaging in sexual intercourse and HIV awareness among Asian American adolescents...