People often assume that lesbian teens are in a low sexual risk category, but a new study proves that this stereotype is actually harmful as sexual orientation doesn’t always align with sexual behaviour. The research from the University of British Columbia and City University of New York found that lesbian teenagers have sex at a younger age, have more partners and engage in riskier practices than bi or heterosexual girls.
It also shows that one in five sexually active lesbian teenagers in the United States reported recently having sex with a man. They reportedly lose their virginity at the average age of 13 years 9 months, which is significantly younger than bisexual (15 years 1 month) and heterosexual (15 years 6 months) girls.
Lesbian and bisexual adolescents also have considerably more sexual partners than straight girls, although bi teens reported having more sex with males.
The report suggests this could be because bi girls feel greater social pressure to have sex with men, or because they experience greater sexual pleasure doing so.
When it came to safe sex, lesbians were found to be much riskier than their peers, with less than a third saying they had discussed using condoms or dental dams with their most recent sexual partner. This may be because “lesbians are less likely to believe they are at risk for STIs when having sex.”
In comparison, nearly two thirds of bi girls and three quarters of straight girls said they had discussed the same issue with their partners.
Co-author Michele Ybarra said that the findings highlight that sexual orientation labels and sexual behaviour don’t always align, especially during the teen years. This means that lesbian and bisexual girls may be having unprotected sex with boys and with girls.
University of Boston Columbia’s nursing professor Elizabeth Saewyc said that sexual health education should be comprehensive and cover sexual health for everyone. Programs need to teach all youth about safe sexual practices for the kinds of sex they’re having, and that means teaching pregnancy prevention and condom negotiation skills to lesbian and bisexual girls too.
The study is published in the Journal of Adolescent Health.