A study of the sexual behavior of New York City high school students found that at least 9% of sexually active teens reported having had at least one same-sex partner. Among teens who had engaged in sex with both sexes, 39% identified themselves as heterosexual or straight; they also reported higher rates than average of partner violence, risky sex and forced sex.
The study, which was released Monday by Pediatrics and was based on data collected in surveys by the city’s health department between 2005 and 2007, suggests that the focus of public-health messages about sex may be outdated: it needs to shift from kids’ self-identities (“I am homosexual,” e.g.) to their behavior (“I have homosexual sex”). (More on Time.com: 5 Little-Known Truths About American Sex Lives)
Reuters Health reports that not all sex-ed classes across the country (and in Canada) address homosexual scenarios and even fewer deal with bisexuality. “Some teens I’ve seen tell me that they completely check out of sex ed because they feel what they were learning didn’t apply to them,” Elizabeth Saewyc, a researcher at the University of British Columbia who was not involved in the study, told the newswire.
“Our public health prevention messages really need to look at behavior, not identity,” Dr. Susan Blank, assistant commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, told the AP. (More on Time.com: Study of American Sex Habits Suggests Boomers Need Sex Ed)
Effective public-health education is particularly critical for teens who have sex with both sexes. The study found they were more likely to forgo using condoms and experience sexual violence: 36% of girls with both male and female partners were assaulted by a date in the previous year and 35% of boys with partners of both sexes reported the same thing.
By comparison, only 6% of boys and 16% of girls who had only heterosexual sex reported experiencing dating violence. “It has been shown in the literature that students who have both male and female partners have a lot of adverse health problems,” Blank told the AP. (More on Time.com: Why You’re Gay: A New Study Shows Why Boy Rats Like Other Boy Rats).
Condom use also varied by sexual experience: 44% of boys with partners of both sexes used a condom during their last encounter, while nearly 80% of boys with only female partners and 62% of boys with only male partners used a condom the last time they had sex.
Many teenagers in New York City live in communities that may be more accepting than average of same-sex relationships and as a result may feel more comfortable experimenting or reporting their experimentation. But given their high rates of partner violence and seeming disregard for safe practices, if teens need better sex ed in New York City, they are likely to need better sex ed everywhere.
More on Time.com:
Girls Want to Talk About Sex — With Dad?
16 and Pregnant: Tuned-In Teens Are Turned Off by Teen Pregnancy