Canadian street youth: correlates of sexual risk-taking activity

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The purpose of this study was to develop a national perspective on the sexual activity of street youth in Canada and to determine the correlates of risky sexual behavior according to street youth's link to the street. Five categories of street youth (sex industry workers, heavy drug and/or alcohol users, young offenders, homeless and unemployed) ages 15 to 20 years were recruited in 1988 from 10 Canadian urban centers to participate in a 45-minute structured interview focusing on knowledge and attitudes regarding sexually transmitted diseases (STD)/human immunodeficiency virus, current sexual practices, sexual and STD history, demographic background, alcohol/drug use and relationship with parents and peers. Data from the survey were also compared with findings from more than 15 000 non-street youth adolescents surveyed in the same year with the use of parallel questionnaires. Of 712 street youth surveyed (391 males, mean age 17.3 years; 321 females, mean age 16.8 years), the majority were sexually active (95% males, 93% females) and 22% reported at least one previous STD (16% males, 30% females). The lowest STD rates were in unemployed males (5%) and the highest (68%) in female sex industry workers. STD/human immunodeficiency virus high risk behaviors were frequent with 47% of males and 41% of females having had at least 10 different partners, 73% of males and 75% of females inconsistently using condoms and 22% of males and 24% of females participating in anal intercourse. Even among sex industry workers more than 40% used condoms inconsistently. Among male sex industry workers, 63% of whom had engaged in anal intercourse, regular condom use was associated with a lower reported STD history (36%) than in those with inconsistent condom use (61%). Major factors that increase the prevalence of infection, namely efficiency of transmission and mean rate of partner change, are operative among street youth. Improving rates of consistent condom use is most likely to have the greatest impact on STD in this population.

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