Research Roundup: Preventing Teen Pregnancy Among LGBTQ, Foster and Native Youth

It’s not news that U.S. teen birth rates have been trending downward for more than 20 years. Nor is it news that pregnancy and birth rates remain higher for some groups of young people. Several new studies look at what might be done to tailor sexual health efforts to the needs of three groups at high risk: lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth; foster youth; and Native American youth.

An Online Curriculum for Sexual Minority Youth

Young men who have sex with men are at particularly high risk for becoming infected with HIV. And some research has found lesbian and bisexual girls to be at a higher than average risk for teen pregnancy. The authors of a new study published in the Journal of Sex Research say these disparities may be compounded by the fact that many LGBTQ youth do not get adequate sexual health education. Parents may not know how or want to talk to them about sexual issues, the authors say, and school sex education classes often look at things from a heterosexual point of view.

The researchers wanted to test how well an online sexual health promotion program, tailored to LGBTQ youth, could improve knowledge and lead to healthier behavior. The researchers gave the self-paced program to 202 young people, ages 16 to 20. Participants had to identify as LGBTQ and be in a relationship. Youth were given a test before and two weeks after taking the online curriculum, which is called the Queer Sex Ed Intervention.

The biggest changes the researchers saw in the post-intervention test were in young people’s increased knowledge of how sex works and of HIV, other sexually transmitted infections, and the use of contraceptives. Young people’s feelings of connectedness to the gay community and their relationship skills increased a little.

An Evidence-Based Program for Foster Youth

In the Hawaii Journal of Medicine & Public Health, the Hawaii Youth Services Network documents its work to tailor an evidence-based sex education curriculum to the needs of foster youth. The network had previously adapted the curriculum Making Proud Choices, changing word choices and visual elements of the program to better reflect native Hawaiian and Asian culture.

The foster-youth curriculum, unlike the original Making Proud Choices program, includes information for adult facilitators about what life is like for youth in the child welfare system. The new version also includes more discussion about healthy vs. unhealthy relationships. It acknowledges the trauma and abuse foster youth may have experienced. And it uses language that is inclusive of youth who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning; who have children of their own; and who are being cared for by adults other than their parents. The program is incorporated into foster-youth camps held during school breaks.

The authors write that “Based on post-tests collected so far, foster youth demonstrate gains that are comparable to other students who have received [Making Proud Choices] training.”

Native Youth, Gender Roles and Teen Pregnancy

Writing in the American Journal of Health Behavior, a group of researchers looks at the attitudes of Native American teens when it comes to gender roles, sex and teen pregnancy. Through focus groups and one-on-one interviews with rural and urban young people in the Northern Plains area of the United States, they found that young people’s choice to abstain, have sex or use contraception was influenced by a number of factors.

The researchers say young women felt pressure not to have sex and fear of being labeled a “slut.” But at the same time, they felt encouraged by family and others to have children at a young age. Young men felt peer pressure to have sex and experienced more lenient attitudes from adults about their sexuality. Study participants discussed the common assumption that contraception is a girl’s responsibility, and also talked about the difficulty young women sometimes have getting their partners to use condoms.

The authors also say that “[American Indian] youth may feel they are providing some type of benefit to their tribe by having multiple children, thereby populating their community and supporting their tribe.” This is a type of pressure not necessarily felt by young people of other ethnicities in the United States.

Read the Articles

“Feasibility, Acceptability, and Initial Efficacy of an Online Sexual Health Promotion Program for LGBT Youth: The Queer Sex Ed Intervention.” By Brian Mustanski, George J. Greene, Daniel Ryan and Sarah W. Whitton. Journal of Sex Research, Vol. 52, No. 2 (2015).

“Building Support for an Evidence-Based Teen Pregnancy and Sexually Transmitted Infection Prevention Program Adapted for Foster Youth.” By Tamara Smith, Judith F. Clark and Claudio R. Nigg. Hawai‘I Journal of Medicine & Public Health, Vol. 74, No.1 (January 2015).

“Understanding Gender Roles in Teen Pregnancy Prevention Among American Indian Youth.” By Jessica D. Hanson, Tracey R. McMahon, Emily R. Griese and DenYelle Baete Kenyon. American Journal of Health Behavior, Vol. 38, No. 7 (November 2014).

 Publications discussed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Clearinghouse on Families and Youth, the Family and Youth Services Bureau, or the Administration for Children and Families.

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