High Rate of Same-Sex Partners Among Teens

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According to a 2002 study of Massachusetts and Vermont teens, only 5 percent to 6 percent of teens had same-sex partners. In the new study completed in 2010, 9.3 percent of teens said they did. This is much higher than experts once thought.

"Clearly there's a high rate of same-sex partners among teens, and we need to recognize any vulnerabilities that may be associated with these behaviors," said Dr. Susan Black, an assistant commissioner at the NYC Health Department who was not involved with the study.

The study looked at more than 17,000 teens in New York City and found that teens who had sex with only their own gender or with both genders were more likely to engage in risky sexual behaviors, putting themselves at greater risk for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

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These behaviors that put teens at risk included not using a condom during sex and having forced sex. More than half of bisexual boys didn't use a condom, compared to a fifth of heterosexual boys. The difference was not quite for women. In addition, a third of bisexual teens had forced sex at some point in their lives, much higher than the 6 percent of heterosexual boys and 16 percent of heterosexual girls who had that experience.

Elizabeth Saewyc, a researcher at the University of British Columbia said that teens may engage in riskier behavior because sex education programs don't always acknowledge gay, lesbian, and bisexual relationships. "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," said Saewyc, who was not involved in the new study.

Her suggestions is that educators need to acknowledge gay, lesbian, and bisexual relationships more often in sex education curriculums so that teens are more likely to listen and will feel more comfortable discussing any issues.

Thomas Krever, executive director of the Hetrick-Martin Institute, a youth advocacy organization that runs an alternative high school for gay teens in New York City, said the survey results did not surprise him. "Young people who are exhibiting characteristics of depression and lower self-worth can indeed place themselves in more risky situations including risky sexual practices," he said.

Meanwhile experts, educators and advocates will try to look at high rate of same-sex partners among teens and search for better education and safety.

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