August 24, 2016

Health risks of lesbian, gay and bisexual teens

Earlier this month, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a report on the health risks of lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) high school students. If you've read this blog before, you'll know that I'm a fan of the Youth Risk Behavior Survey  (YRBS), and the most recent YRBS looked at sexual orientation in addition to other risk taking behaviors.

Findings from the report, Sexual Identity, Sex of Sexual Contacts, and Health-Related Behaviors Among Students in Grades 9-12 — United States and Selected Sites, 2015 (based on the most recent YRBS data) show that LGB students experience physical and sexual violence and bullying at alarmingly high rates. These rates are multiple times higher than that of their heterosexual peers. For example, LGB students are significantly more likely to report:

  • Being forced to have sex (18% LGB vs. 5% heterosexual)

  • Sexual dating violence (23% LGB vs. 9% heterosexual)

  • Physical dating violence (18% LGB vs. 8% heterosexual)

  • Being bullied at school (34% LGB vs. 19% heterosexual). Twice as many LGB students were threatened with a weapon on school property!

  • Being bullied online (28% LGB vs. 14% heterosexual)

These experiences can place LGB students at substantial risk for serious outcomes:

  • More than 40% of LGB students seriously considered suicide and 29% reported attempting suicide in the past year.

  • LGB students were up to 5 times more likely than other students to report using several illegal drugs.

  • More than 10% of LGB students have missed school during the past 30 days because of safety concerns.

Although this report does not tell us why there are these disparities between LGB and heterosexual students, research suggests significant stigma and discrimination are likely contributing factors.  While there is no simple solution to address the risks shown in the report, the CDC has come up with some violence prevention strategies, including universal, school-based violence prevention programs in schools.  Youth also need better access to mental health care.  However, violence prevention can (and should) start at home.  Have conversations with your child about healthy relationships and sexuality.  Be open-minded and nonjudgmental, showing your child that they can come to you whenever they don't feel safe (either from a bully, from their boyfriend/girlfriend, or from themselves). These conversations need to start early and happen often.

This violence and the subsequent costs are too much. Something must be done to protect all youth from violence.