CDC: Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual Teens More Likely to be Bullied, Engage in Risky Behavior, be in Abusive Relationships
A federal study has found that teenagers who identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual (LGB) face more bullying and engage in more unsafe behavior such as sex, drug use, and use of alcohol when compared to heterosexual counterparts. Same-sex attracted teens also face far higher rates of abuse in their relationships.
Challenging the common assumption of “safe sex” advocates, the study found that almost half (45.7 percent) of students in grades nine through 12 had never engaged in sexual contact with someone of the same or the opposite sex.
The study, released by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), compared and contrasted survey respondents in multiple categories, such as sexual identification, biological sex and sexual behavior. It surveyed more than 15,600 students at 125 public and private schools across the country. Titled Sexual Identity, Sex of Sexual Contacts, and Health-Related Behaviors Among Students in Grades 9–12, the massive study was directed by Laura Kann, a researcher from the CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention.
Sexual Contact Overall
“Nationwide, 88.8% of students identified as heterosexual, 2.0% identified as gay or lesbian, 6.0% identified as bisexual, and 3.2% were not sure of their sexual identity,” reported the researchers, relying on surveys the students answered anonymously. “Nationwide, 48.0% of students had had sexual contact with only the opposite sex, 1.7% had had sexual contact with only the same sex, 4.6% had had sexual contact with both sexes, and 45.7% had had no sexual contact.”
Of the students who had not had any sexual relations, 91 percent said they are heterosexual, while six percent “identified as gay, lesbian, or bisexual.” The rest, three percent, were not sure how to identify themselves.
Risky Behaviors, Guns in School
For many non-sexual risky behaviors, such as not wearing a helmet while bicycling or drinking while driving, teenagers reported the same behaviors no matter what their sexual self-identification.
There were some differences, however. Heterosexual students were far more likely than LGB teenagers to drive and text or email in the 30 days before the survey — 42.6 percent compared to 30.3 percent. LBG students were more likely to smoke cigarettes at all and if they smoked to smoke many cigarettes. The same was true for drinking and the use of a wide range of drugs, including marijuana, heroin and cocaine.
The students differed also in their use and experience of guns and violence in school. Students who had opposite-sex-only sexual relations were twice to carry or have carried a weapon of any kind as teenagers who had never engaged in sexual contact.
Just 5.1 percent of heterosexual teens had been threatened with or injured by a weapon on school property at least once in the prior year, half the percentage of LBG students (10 percent) and a little over one-third of the uncertain students (13 percent). Similarly, only three percent of students who had no sexual contact were threatened or injured by a weapon on school property, compared with seven percent of those who only experienced opposite-sex sexual contact and 13 percent of those who had sexual relations with only the same or with both sexes.
LBG Students and Bullying
One in eight students who identified as LBG said they had missed a day of school in the prior month because of “safety concerns,” while only one in 20 heterosexual teens said they had done the same and only one about one in 28 of those with no sexual contact.
Twice as many (28 percent compared to 14.2 percent) LBG teens reported electronic bullying compared to heterosexual counterparts. Thirty-four percent reported being bullied on school property, compared to 20 percent of heterosexual students.
Relationship Violence Highest
More than one in six LBG students reported being forced to have unwanted sexual intercourse, compared to one in 19 heterosexual students. About one in 12 heterosexual students had been physically harmed on purpose “by someone they were dating or going out with one or more times during the 12 months before the survey.” This compared to 17.5 percent of LBG students, and nearly one in four of students uncertain about their sexual identity.
The figures for sexual violence were just as high. Just over nine percent of heterosexual students, 22.7 percent of LBG students, and almost 24 percent of uncertain students “had been forced to do sexual things (counting being kissed, touched, or physically forced to have sexual intercourse) they did not want to do by someone they were dating or going out with one or more times during the 12 months before the survey.”
Suicide Thoughts and Attempts
In the year before the survey, far more teens who were not heterosexual were depressed, considered suicide, made a plan to commit suicide or actually attempted to commit suicide.
From the study, during the 12 months before the survey:
- 29.9% of all students; 26.4% of heterosexual students; 60.4% of gay, lesbian, and bisexual students; and 46.5% of not sure students had felt so sad or helpless almost every day for 2 or more weeks in a row that they stopped doing some usual activities.
- 17.7% of all students; 14.8% of heterosexual students; 42.8% of gay, lesbian, or bisexual students; and 31.9% of not sure students had seriously considered attempting suicide.
- 14.6% of all students; 11.9% of heterosexual students; 38.2% of gay, lesbian, and bisexual students; and 27.9% of not sure students had made a plan about how they would attempt suicide.
- 8.6% of all students; 6.4% of heterosexual students; 29.4% of gay, lesbian, and bisexual students; and 13.7% of not sure students had attempted suicide one or more times.
Two percent of heterosexual students, 9.4 percent of LBG students, and 4.7 percent of uncertain students had to be treated by a nurse or doctor as the result of a suicide attempt.
The Authors’ Answers
The report’s authors offered lengthy opinions on how to improve the lives of those they called “sexual minority students.” They concluded that some of them “struggle because of the disparities in health-related behaviors documented in this report, particularly violence-related behaviors and alcohol and other drug use, that can be compounded by stigma, discrimination, and homophobia.” The authors promoted policies promoting “school connectedness and a safe, welcoming, and accepting school environment for all students,” including “gay/straight alliances” and the use of “inclusive words or terms.”
Others, however, including an open bisexual man, argue that the problem is much more complicated than simply their suffering social disapproval and a lack of support from the schools. For The Stream‘s report on their responses, see here.