In British Columbia, about 90% of adolescents of East Asian backgrounds (Chinese, Korean, and Japanese) have never had sexual intercourse. However, among sexually experienced teens, most have engaged in risky sexual practice.
BC has a growing number of people of East Asian (Chinese, Korean, and Japanese) descent. But little is known about health and risk behaviours of both Canadian-born and foreign-born East Asian adolescents.
To estimate the prevalence of various sexual behaviours among East Asian youth, we analyzed the 2008 BC Adolescent Health Survey, a school-based survey of students in grades 7 to 12 in BC public schools.
Nearly 30,000 students completed the survey, representing about 280,000 students in the province. Our study included more than 4,000 East Asian youth. About half were born outside of Canada or usually speak a language other than English at home.
Results showed that 11% had ever had oral sex and 10% had ever had sexual intercourse.(1) Among those who experienced sexual intercourse, more than one third had sex with two or more partners in the past year prior to the survey. Sexually experienced girls were less likely than boys to use a condom at last sex (53% vs. 67%). Over 70% of sexually experienced adolescents had ever engaged in some types of risky sexual behaviours (e.g., not using a condom at last sex, using alcohol or drugs before last sex, having multiple sexual partners).
Why have those 90% of East Asian students not had sex? Top two reasons were “not ready” and “waiting to meet the right person.” For girls, “to avoid pregnancy” and “to avoid an STI” are also common reasons for not having sex.
“East Asian” youth are a diverse group. We found differences in sexual behaviours within this group. For example, among sexually experienced girls, those with more contact with Canadian culture (born in Canada) were more likely than immigrant girls to use birth control pills at last intercourse. By contrast, those with more contact with East Asian cultures (speaking their heritage language at home) were less likely than their English-speaking peers to do so.
Implications for practice
Given that about half of East Asian youth in our study were foreign-born or use their heritage language at home, we need culturally sensitive and teen-friendly services for East Asian youth, providing education and health care in both English and their first language.
Parents of East Asian teens also may not have had a chance to receive sex education or have resources to learn about current sexual health issues. For parents, teaching is not the only way to promote teen sexual health – studies have shown that having a good relationship with their teens is also a key factor.. Many parents feel uncomfortable talking about sex-related topics with their children, so sexual health education that targets both teens and their families is recommended.
For further information
Please contact Dr. Yuko Homma (UBC School of Nursing).
- Homma, Y., Saewyc, E. M., Wong, S.T., and Zumbo, B. D. 2013. Sexual health and risk behaviour among East Asian adolescents in British Columbia. Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, 22 (1), 13-24.