Does Sexual Orientation Affect Teen Pregnancy Risk?

Two high school girls laughing.

Sexual Orientation and Risk of Pregnancy Among New York City High-School Students,” (abstract). Lisa Lindley and Katrina Walsemann. Research and Practice, Vol. 105, No. 7 (July 2015).

What it’s about: Researchers Lindley and Walsemann wanted to know how sexual orientation affects high-school students' risk of getting pregnant or getting someone pregnant. They used data from the 2005, 2007 and 2009 New York City Youth Risk Behavior Survey to find out. Forty-three percent of girls in the study were African American. Forty-one percent of boys were Hispanic. Youths' average age was 16.

Why read it: Some studies have examined the relationship between high schoolers' sexual orientation and their likelihood of getting pregnant or getting someone pregnant. But many of these older studies analyzed data from the 1980s and 1990s and looked at populations made up predominately of white girls. Lindley and Walsemann reviewed more recent data collected from racially diverse girls and boys.

Biggest takeaways from the research: Lindley and Walsemann found that young people's sexual orientation and the gender of their sexual partners were strongly linked with their risk of getting pregnant or getting someone pregnant.

About 14 percent of the young women in the study said they had been pregnant at some time in their lives.

  • Nearly 1 in 4 girls who identified as lesbian or bisexual had been pregnant.
  • A little over 1 in 5 girls who'd had both male and female sexual partners had been pregnant.
  • Nearly 14 percent of girls who reported only male sexual partners had been pregnant.
  • A little over 13 percent of girls who identified as heterosexual had been pregnant.

About 11 percent of boys said they had gotten someone pregnant at some time in their lives.

  • Close to 30 percent of boys who identified as gay or bisexual had gotten someone pregnant.
  • Close to 40 percent of boys who had both male and female sexual partners had gotten someone pregnant.
  • Ten percent of boys who identified as heterosexual had gotten someone pregnant.
  • Nearly 10 percent of boys who said they only had female sexual partners had gotten someone pregnant.

Lindley and Walsemann say adolescent pregnancy prevention efforts focused exclusively on heterosexual young people may be too narrow. The researchers recommend that pregnancy prevention campaigns be designed to be inclusive of young people with diverse sexual orientations and identifications. Lindley and Walsemann also suggest that researchers look beyond traditional risk factors when trying to identify what puts young people at risk for pregnancy and other sexual health issues.

Additional references: Look for more articles about teen pregnancy  prevention, LGBTQ pregnancy, and sexual minority youth in NCFY’s research library.

Data from the CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System was used to produce this study.

Listen to our podcast episode "Voices from the Field: Teen Pregnancy Prevention for LGBTQ Youth" and read our research roundup on preventing teen pregnancy among LGBTQ, foster and native youth.

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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