Primary Sources: Girls with Same-Sex Partners More Likely to Report Relationship Abuse

Two young women standing next to each other.

Differences by Sexual Minority Status in Relationship Abuse and Sexual and Reproductive Health Among Adolescent Females,” Heather L. McCauley, Rebecca N. Dick, Daniel J. Tancredi, Sandi Goldstein, Samantha Blackburn, Jay G. Silverman, Erica Monasterio, Lisa James, and Elizabeth Miller. The Journal of Adolescent Health, Vol. 55, Issue 5 (November 2014).

What it’s about: The authors of this study wanted to examine relationship abuse and sexual and reproductive health among girls and young women who engage in same-sex behaviors, whether or not they identify as lesbian or bisexual. The researchers defined relationship abuse as physical, sexual, and psychological abuse or harassment in romantic or intimate relationships. They collected data from 564 sexually active girls ages 14 to 19 seeking care at eight school-based health centers in California. The study participants completed a 15-minute computer-based survey about relationship abuse, sexual behavior, pregnancy risk, and medical care-seeking for sexual and reproductive health.

Why read it: While other studies have examined links between relationship violence and sexual risk behaviors that may lead to sexually transmitted infections, they usually focus on heterosexual relationships. In addition, researchers who study relationship violence and sexual health among girls and young women who identify as lesbian or bisexual have called for further research that includes young women who have female partners but don't identify as lesbian or bisexual. This study seeks to fill these gaps, and may be a useful resource for youth workers at sexual health and pregnancy prevention programs seeking to extend services to marginalized populations.

Biggest takeaways from the research: Compared to girls and young women who only had male partners, those who had same-sex partners were:

  • More likely to be coming into a clinic for sexually transmitted infection testing or treatment.
  • More likely to report recent relationship abuse.

Compared to girls and young women who had not recently experienced relationship abuse, those who had were:

  • More than two times more likely to have multiple sex partners.
  • Almost four times more likely to have had a recent male partner who was more than 5 years older.

The researchers suggest that youth workers be trained to assess youth for sexual contacts and sexual identity and counsel all youth on healthy relationships, consensual sex and safer sex practices relevant to their sexual experiences. The researchers also call for more attention to sexually transmitted infection risk, especially among girls with same-sex partners.

Further research is needed to understand whether unique risk factors related to identifying as lesbian or bisexual (e.g. gay-related victimization, threats of “outing”) influence sexual minority girls’ risk for relationship abuse, they write. The authors suspect that relational dynamics operate differently for girls who identify as lesbian or bisexual than they do for those who have relationships with same-sex partners but do not identify as lesbian or bisexual.

Additional references: Look for more articles on relationship abuse and sexual minority youth in NCFY’s research library.

We also offer several resources relating to dating violence and sexual minority youth including "Toolkit to Incorporate Adolescent Relationship Abuse Prevention Into Existing Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Programming," "Serving Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning Youth With Open Arms" and "Dating Violence and LGBT Teens."

Publications discussed here do not necessarily reflect the views of NCFY, FYSB or the Administration for Children & Families.

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