Study by MTV and Yale Reveals Attitudes and Behaviors Of Young People Toward Sex, Health and AIDS

87 percent of people ages 12 to 34 feel invulnerable to AIDS virus; more than half say media messages on health risks are inadequate

87 percent of people ages 12 to 34 feel invulnerable to AIDS virus; more than half say media messages on health risks are inadequate

New Haven, CT – Nearly 9 out of 10 young people (87 percent) believe they are invulnerable to getting the AIDS virus, even though 20 percent have had a friend or acquaintance die of the disease, a national survey by MTV: Music Television and Yale University reveals. Released today, the survey assesses young people’s attitudes and behaviors related to sex, health and AIDS.

In partnership with Yale University’s Center for Interdisciplinary Research on AIDS (CIRA), MTV surveyed a sample of 770 people 12 to 34 years old. Only 2 percent of Whites consider themselves vulnerable to getting the AIDS virus, compared with 16 percent of Hispanics, and 11 percent of African Americans. More than half cannot think of a way they or people they know are at risk for getting the AIDS virus.

While 90 percent of all respondents say they are not engaging in any activity which puts them at risk for getting AIDS, only half (53 percent) of unmarried respondents used a condom the last time they had sex, and 33 percent of unmarried respondents have not received or purchased a condom in the last six months. Sixty-three percent of 12 to 34-year olds cite using condoms and practicing safe sex as the way to prevent AIDS. However, 45 percent of unmarried respondents have engaged in sex one or more times without using condoms. Of that 45 percent, less than half use condoms when having sex with a new person, and 23 percent engage in sex without using birth control.

“This study is important because it tells us that, despite the information that’s out there, young people have not internalized the dangers of AIDS, drugs, alcohol and other health-related risks,” said Dr. Michael H. Merson, Dean of Public Health at the Yale University School of Medicine and CIRA director.

MTV President Judy McGrath added, “It also tells us that we can’t take a back seat on these issues. Not arming young people with the facts and the means to protect themselves is taking a real gamble with the future.”

Young people report that the mass media, one of the most important sources for health-related information for young people, are not providing them with the information they want and need.

Twenty-five percent of 12 to 34-year olds rely on television as their main source of information for a wide range of health-related issues such as drinking, drugs, sex, AIDS, and prevention of pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). However, more than half of young people today believe the media are not adequately sending out the message about the dangers of various health issues.

For example, young people say there is not enough advertising about pregnancy prevention (68 percent), the dangers of unprotected sex (63 percent), and AIDS (56 percent). Fifty-nine percent say there is too little on the dangers of drugs, and 58 percent say there is not enough advertising on the issue of violence.

“As a network built on knowing everything about our viewers, these findings reinforce what we’ve observed over the past year – young people want answers to tough questions about sex, health and AIDS,” said Todd Cunningham, MTV’s Vice President of Research and Planning. “The survey gives us key information we need to create programs that will provide some answers and help address the issues head on.”

The survey also found that young people are relatively unconcerned with health-related social issues. Economic well-being and family relationships top the list as the primary concerns of today’s youth. Only 3 percent of respondents cite AIDS and other STDs as their most important personal concern. Six percent mention crime, violence and gangs; and 7 percent mention drugs and alcohol. By comparison, 22 percent say career, employment and personal development are their primary personal concerns, and 21 percent cite educational achievement as most important.

The survey was conducted June 3-29, 1997. Respondents were gender-matched with their interviewer due to the sensitive nature of thesurvey. Because a national sample under-represents minority populations, two supplemental samples were generated – one from census tracts made up of 80 percent or greater density of African-American households and one from census tracts composed of 80 percent or greater density of Hispanic/Latino households. The margin of error for the survey is +/- 4 percent.

CIRA at Yale conducts research aimed at preventing HIV infection and reducing the harmful consequences of AIDS. Its initial focus is on adolescents, women and drug users – populations in which HIV infections still are increasing at an alarming rate. Yale researchers participating in this study were Dr. Merson and Peter Salovey, psychology professor and CIRA co-director.

MTV Networks, a unit of Viacom Inc., owns and operates five cable television programming services – MTV: Music Television, M2, VH1, Nickelodeon/Nick at Nite, and Nick at Nite’s TV Land – all of which are trademarks of MTV Networks. Information about MTV and M2 is available on MTV Online on America Online (Keyword: MTV) and the World Wide Web (

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