Collaborative Research Reveals Rural Adolescents' Attitudes about HIV
It should come as no surprise to experts in sexual behavior and sexually transmitted diseases that AIDS is now rising faster in rural than in urban areas. Despite this fact, results of a recent study conducted by researchers as part of a new collaboration between the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction and the Rural Center for AIDS/STD Prevention show that rural adolescents feel a sense of invulnerability to HIV.
The Rural Center, a federally funded joint project between Indiana University and Purdue University located on the IU Bloomington campus, funded the study of 38 adolescents, ages 11 to 17, in two 4-H clubs in rural counties in southern Indiana. The data were collected in focus group interviews in December 1996.
Recalling the genesis of the collaboration between the Kinsey Institute and the Rural Center, Stephanie Sanders, associate director and associate scientist at the Kinsey Institute, says, "Bill Yarber, senior director of the Rural Center, was aware that I had been involved in research at the Kinsey Institute looking at high-risk sexual behaviors among college students, and that I also had an interest in adolescent development." Sanders adds that "for quite a while now, the Institute has conducted studies on sexual behavior in relation to HIV risk, and under the directorship of Dr. John Bancroft, we have an increasing interest in issues of adolescent sexuality. These interests naturally overlap those of the Rural Center."
In separate focus groups conducted with adolescent females and males -- led by Sanders and Yarber, respectively --- the subjects reported that they feel they know everyone in their communities and that they need not fear HIV until someone they know becomes infected or develops AIDS. Further, both males and females said they would not practice sexual abstinence just to avoid HIV, and females expressed a greater fear of pregnancy than of HIV infection.
"The other significant finding is that adolescent girls may have more power than they realize in controlling sexual behavior in a relationship," Yarber said. "Here in this study, the males were saying they will listen to them."
The males in the study said they would not insist on using a condom, but would cooperate if the female wanted to use one. They also said females should suggest condom use. While the males reported they would "push some" for sex, they would not take the pressure to extremes and were willing to be exclusive to one partner if that were the wish of the female.
Sanders and Yarber feel that the study was strengthened by the interdisciplinary and collaborative approach to the methodology design and data interpretation. "When there is collaboration, it results in studies that are much more sound," Yarber says. "You get different perspectives, and you can pull in different areas of expertise that balance one another. This was the first project we have collaborated on, and hopefully there will be more. The Rural Center values the expertise of the Kinsey Institute, and I think this is the beginning of a team effort to deal with a major public health problem."
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