Objective. To assess sexually active adolescents' knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors associated with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) testing and to determine the factors important in their decision to obtain voluntary HIV testing.

Design. Anonymous, random, digit-dial telephone survey undertaken in 1993.

Setting. Massachusetts households.

Participants. Adolescents, 16 to 19 years of age.

Results. Of the 567 adolescents surveyed who had sexual intercourse within the past year, 127 (22%) had received HIV testing, with 54 (10%) stating that this testing was for personal reasons. A “great deal” or “some” worry about getting HIV/acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) was expressed by 51%, and 56% felt that it was at least a little likely that they will get AIDS. Misconceptions were common about aspects of HIV testing: 35% did not believe or did not know that the HIV test results were kept in confidence, 19% thought that AIDS testers informed partners if the results were positive, and 30% did not think that the HIV test was very accurate. Although 92% (452/490) had seen a physician in the past year, only 30% (136/452) had ever discussed AIDS with a doctor. Multivariable analysis identified five factors as independently associated with voluntary adolescent HIV testing: 1) having had more than one sexual partner within the past year [odds ratio (OR): 2.9; 95% confidence interval (CI): 1.5, 5.5]; 2) believing that condoms are only somewhat effective at preventing the spread of AIDS (OR: 2.6; 95% CI: 1.4, 4.8); 3) having discussed AIDS with a doctor (OR: 2.6; 95% CI: 1.4, 4.8); 4) not having had a teacher discuss AIDS (OR: 2.2; 95% CI: 1.2, 4.2); and 5) believing that a positive test result means one has AIDS as opposed to carrying the virus (OR: 2.0; 95% CI: 1.1, 3.7). High-risk behavior of infrequent condom use and a history of a sexually transmitted disease were not significantly associated with voluntary HIV testing.

Conclusion. Among sexually active Massachusetts adolescents, voluntary HIV testing is uncommon. Teens who have had multiple sexual partners and who do not believe condoms are effective in preventing transmission were most likely to have been tested. Issues requiring clearer communication to patients include the testing process, its availability, and confidentiality. Physicians can play an influential role in the promotion of HIV testing by discussing HIV risk behaviors with patients and offering those at risk voluntary HIV counseling and testing.

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