their interaction style with black boys as these boys’ bodies mature. Teachers and adults on the street react with more fear and avoidance of black boys as they begin to look more like men (Spencer, 1995; Spencer et al., 1998). Similarly, the body changes associated with puberty may lead to increased pressure to join gangs in communities in which gangs are a major form of peer interaction. As discussed throughout this report, community programs have the potential to provide alternative settings that reduce such pressures and negative experiences. Such programs are particularly important during the early adolescent years, when young people do not have the social and emotional maturity to cope well with these kinds of pressures.
Directly linked to the biological changes associated with puberty are the changes in both body architecture and emotions related to sexuality. Puberty is all about the emergence of sexuality. The physical changes of puberty both increase the individual’s own interest in sex and others’ perception of them as sexual objects. Both of these changes can have a profound impact on development. Sexual behavior increases dramatically during early to middle adolescence: the most recent report from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Blum et al., 2000) indicates that rates of sexual intercourse rise from 16 percent among 7th to 8th graders to 60 percent among 11th and 12th graders.
Accompanying these age-related increases are increases in pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. The rate of age-related increases in sexual intercourse is particularly high among blacks and adolescents living in poor and single-parent households. The rate of age-related increase in sexual intercourse is also especially high among adolescents who are involved in an extended romantic relationship and who perceive the benefits of sexual relations as high and the cost of sexual relations (including the cost of becoming pregnant) as low. Rates are particularly low among adolescents who want to avoid becoming pregnant so that they can fulfill their educational and occupational aspirations (Blum et al., 2000; see also Kirby and Coyle, 1997).
Some interventions designed to help adolescents form and maintain high educational and occupational aspirations and to reduce their early involvement in romantic relationships have been effective at lowering rates of unprotected sexual activity and unplanned pregnancies (Kirby and Coyle, 1997; Nicholson and Postrado, 1992; Weiss, 1995). Community programs have the potential to support these aspirations as well as provide adolescents with constructive activities that help them resist peer pressure for involvement in unprotected sexual behavior. Programs