Previous studies suggest that student athletes may be less likely than nonathletes to engage in sexual behavior. However, few have explored sexual risk behavior among athletes in early adolescence.
In 2005, a sample of 10,487 students in 26 Los Angeles public middle and high schools completed a self-administered survey that asked about their demographic characteristics, sports participation, sexual behaviors and expectations, and parental relationships. Chi-square analyses compared reported levels of daily participation in sports, experience with intercourse, experience with oral sex and condom use at last intercourse by selected characteristics. Predictors of sexual experience and condom use were assessed in multivariate logistic regression analyses.
One-third of students reported daily participation in sports. This group had higher odds of ever having had intercourse and ever having had oral sex than their peers who did not play a sport daily (odds ratios, 1.2 and 1.1, respectively). The increases in risk were greater for middle school sports participants than for their high school counterparts (1.5 and 1.6, respectively). Among sexually experienced students, daily sports participants also had elevated odds of reporting condom use at last intercourse (1.4).
Students as young as middle school age who participate in sports daily may have an elevated risk for STDs and pregnancy. Health professionals should counsel middle school athletes about sexual risk reduction, given that young students may find it particularly difficult to obtain contraceptives, STD testing and prevention counseling.
Melissa A. Habel is health scientist, and Patricia J. Dittus is behavioral scientist— both with the National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD and TB Prevention, Division of STD Prevention, Behavioral Interventions and Research Branch, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta. Christine J. De Rosa is chief research analyst, Emily Q. Chung is research analyst and Peter R. Kerndt is director—all with the Sexually Transmitted Diseases Program, Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.