Primary Sources: Comparing Sexual and Reproductive Health of Young Women With Different Sexual Orientations

Three young women

Sexual Orientation and Sexual and Reproductive Health Among Adolescent Young Women in the United States” (abstract). Samantha L. Tornello, Rachel G. Riskind, and Charlotte J. Patterson. Journal of Adolescent Health, Vol. 54, No. 2, February 2014.

What it’s about: Samantha Tornello, Rachel Riskind and Charlotte Patterson of the University of Virginia Department of Psychology wanted to know whether lesbian and bisexual young women had riskier sexual and reproductive health behavior than heterosexual women. They used data from the 2006-2010 National Survey of Family Growth to examine sexual and reproductive health among 15- to 20-year-old women.

Why read it: This study is the first to examine sexual and reproductive health among a nationally representative sample of self-identified lesbian, bisexual and heterosexual young women in the United States.

Biggest takeaways for family and youth workers: Overall, bisexual young women were at greatest risk out of all the groups the authors studied. Specific themes included the following:

Number of sexual partners. Bisexual young women reported significantly more male sexual partners during the previous year and during their lives than did their heterosexual and lesbian peers. Lesbian and bisexual women reported significantly more female sexual partners during the previous year and over their lifetimes than did heterosexual young women.

Age of sexual onset. Bisexual young women were likely to have had first intercourse with a young man at a younger age than lesbian or heterosexual young women in the study.

Sexual assault. Bisexual and lesbian young women were more likely than were their heterosexual peers to report ever having been forced to have sexual intercourse with a male partner.

Terminating unwanted pregnancy. While bisexual and heterosexual young women were equally likely to have ever experienced an unwanted pregnancy, bisexual women were more likely to have ever terminated a pregnancy. Bisexual women were also most likely to have used emergency contraception.

Tornello, Riskin and Patterson acknowledge that the subsample of National Survey of Family Growth data they used may not adequately represent all sexual minority (lesbian, bisexual, transgender) young women. And while some studies have looked at types of sexual behavior as separate from self-identified sexual orientation, this study did not differentiate. The authors feel more nationally representative research is needed to broaden knowledge in this area of study. Still, they say, the results of their study reveal that bisexual and some lesbian young women have significantly elevated sexual and reproductive health risks compared to their heterosexual peers. The researchers suggest that youth and family service providers offer sexual health education and counseling tailored specifically to the needs of bisexual, lesbian and other sexual minority young women.

Additional references: Find abstracts of other literature on sexual minority youth and sexual and reproductive health in our digital library.

The National Survey of Family Growth provided the data used by this study.

"The Health of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender People: Building a Foundation for a Better Understanding" is a 2011 report by the Institute of Medicine Committee on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Health Issues and Research Gaps and Opportunities. The report offers a research agenda on the topic for the National Institutes of Health.

Read NCFY’s "Bright Idea: Five Ways to Help Parents and Their Transgender Teens and Young Adults" for tips on providing inclusive health education.

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