When It Comes to Sex, Labels Aren’t Everything

Teen girls’ sexual orientation doesn’t dictate sexual behavior, according to University of British Columbia study


Sexuality is often more complex than a simple label can define. New research suggests that sex educators may want to keep this in mind, especially when talking to teen girls.

According to research by the University of British Columbia, a new study found that about one in five lesbian, and four in five bisexual girls who are sexually active recently had a male sex partner.

To conduct the study, researchers looked at data from the Teen Health and Technology Study, an online, national survey of LGBT and non-LGBT teens in the US. The study surveyed 2,823 girls between the ages of 13 and 18 years old.

The study found that only about 32 percent of lesbian teens talked about using condoms or dental dams with their most recent sex partner. Bisexual and heterosexual teens were much more likely to discuss using protection—62 and 73 percent, respectively.

"Our findings highlight that sexual orientation labels and sexual behavior don't always align—especially during the teen years," lead author Michele Ybarra said in the press release.

Ybarra is president of the non-profit research incubator, Center for Innovative Public Health Research, in San Clemente, California.

"This means that lesbian and bisexual girls may be having unprotected sex with boys—and with girls," Ybarra said.

On average, lesbians started having sex at a younger age (13.8) than their bisexual (15.1) and heterosexual (15.5) counterparts. The researchers also found that bisexual girls were more likely to have sex than heterosexual girls, and both lesbian and bisexual girls had more lifetime partners.

The authors said that the study has important implications for schools and clinics. The authors also said that sex education programs should be comprehensive and include condom usage and pregnancy prevention information for all teens, including bisexual and lesbian.

"Experimentation is normal, which is why adolescent health professionals need to make sure that every young person has the skills she needs to keep herself safe,” co-author Margaret Rosario, a professor of psychology at CUNY, said.

The study was published in the March issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health.

It was funded by the National Institutes of Health. The authors declared no conflicts of interest.