Sex and drugs and teenage boys

By Jonathan Knight STANDARD written surveys may vastly underestimate the risky behaviour of teenagers. A new computer-assisted survey has found that many times more American teenagers than previously believed have injected drugs or had sex with an intravenous drug user. Charles Turner and colleagues at the Research Triangle Institute and the Urban Institute in Washington DC surveyed 1700 randomly chosen teenage males. They used a written survey or a computer-based test in which questions were shown on screen and played through headphones by a digital recording. The two methods produced remarkably different results. “Whatever your impression of teenage risk behaviour before,” says Turner, “things are worse.” For example, about 5 per cent of those given the computer survey reported they had injected street drugs—four times the number who admitted to the practice in the written survey. The electronic survey also uncovered 17 times as many teenagers, nearly 3 per cent, who’d had sex with an intravenous drug user. Less taboo activities came up similarly in both tests—65 per cent had drunk alcohol, 50 per cent had sex with a female (Science, vol 280, p 867). The researchers say responses may seem more confidential when stored as a computer file rather than on paper,
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