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CONTEXT: Early sexual initiation is associated with elevated teenage pregnancy and STD risk, yet little is known about the prevalence and correlates of sexual behavior among young adolescents. Better information is needed to guide interventions to prevent early sexual debut.

METHODS: Data from a 2005 survey of 4,557 sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students at 14 urban public schools in Southern California were analyzed using chi-square tests and logistic regression, to identify correlates of oral sex, intercourse and both.

RESULTS: Overall, 9% of youth had ever had sexual intercourse, and 8% had had oral sex. Three percent reported having had oral sex only, 4% intercourse only and 5% both. Among those who reported intercourse, 69% had used a condom at last intercourse, and 43% had had multiple partners. Being male, being black and having at least one friend who had ever been involved in a pregnancy were positively associated with having had intercourse only and both intercourse and oral sex (odds ratios, 1.7–4.2). Being in eighth grade, expecting to have intercourse in the next six months and currently having a boyfriend or girlfriend were positively associated with all three outcomes (2.1–7.2). Intercourse and oral sex were highly correlated.

CONCLUSIONS: Interventions addressing oral sex, intercourse and multiple partners should begin before sixth grade and continue throughout the middle school years. Health professionals should target adolescent risk reduction counseling toward males, blacks, youth with a boyfriend or girlfriend, and those with a friend who has been involved in a pregnancy.