Metro Weekly

LGBT teens have higher risk of pregnancy, Minn. study says

Lack of sexual health education and other risky behaviors may contribute to higher rates

Photograph of abdomen of a pregnant woman (Credit: Canwest News Service, via Wikimedia Commons).

Photograph of abdomen of a pregnant woman (Credit: Canwest News Service, via Wikimedia Commons).

Minnesota youth advocates have found an alarming trend among adolescents. It’s something reminiscent of a plotline from dark comedy Saved!

In Saved!, Jena Malone’s character, Mary, has a boyfriend, Dean, who tells her he is gay. In order to “cure” him of his homosexuality, they have sex and Mary ends up getting pregnant.

But while the movie about the dark side of evangelical Christian high schoolers is often a punchline, it appears that LGBT youth — like the character of Dean — may be at higher risk of teen pregnancy. That’s according to an analysis of data from Teenwise Minnesota, an organization dealing with teenage sexual health and education.

According to a survey on adolescent sexual behaviors and risk factors, Teenwise Minnesota has found that LGBT teens are more likely to become or get someone pregnant than their heterosexual peers. This development was first reported last week in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

Judith Kahn, the executive director of  Teenwise Minnesota, told the Star-Tribune that the findings are “very counterintuitive,” as the assumption is often that LGBT teens don’t have to worry about pregnancy.

A variety of other risk factors may be contributing to the trend, such as mental health issues, homelessness and drug or alcohol use. The Rainbow Health Initiative, which works with LGBT teens, reported that pregnant youths had reported struggling with these other issues when they were interviewed about their situation. Youth advocates note that negative self-image and societal pressures may also push youth to engage in higher-risk behaviors that could lead to unplanned teen pregnancy.

The study found that bisexual females were five times more likely to become pregnant than their straight peers, and questioning and gay males were four times more likely to report getting someone pregnant.

The study found LGBT teens were also more sexually active, with about half of bisexual, lesbian or gay males and females reporting they have had sex, compared to about a quarter of straight males and females. Just under 20 percent of questioning males reported having sex, and closer to 30 percent of questioning females reported they had.

The findings come just as a recent nationwide study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that fewer than half of all teens were sexually active, and the majority of those who were used some form of contraceptive.

Some experts blame a lack of sufficient and comprehensive sexual education that includes teaching LGBTQ youths about the risks of pregnancy. They also note that because sexual identity is more fluid, even those who identify as “gay” or “lesbian” may be engaging in heterosexual sex. Other teenagers report having sex to avoid criticism or bullying based on their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.

Other contributing factors pointed to by researchers include childhood sexual abuse or drug and alcohol use. Related to that latter factor, 36 percent of questioning males reported using alcohol or drugs during their last sexual encounter, Teenwise’s study found. Rates for questioning females and LGBT teens of both genders ranged between 20 and 30 percent, while rates among straight males and females were less than 20 percent.

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John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com