The bullying of lesbian and bisexual teen girls is the culprit.
It may seem counterintuitive, but according to a recent study, bisexual and lesbian cis girls are twice as likely to become teen moms as straight cis girls due to a multitude of factors. The study, “Teen Pregnancy Risk Factors Among Young Women of Diverse Sexual Orientations,” was published in the March 2018 issue of Pediatrics and was conducted by researchers at San Diego State University, Harvard, and the City University of New York.
The study gathered data from 7,120 teen girls of all sexualities. Bullying has long been a determined cause of teen pregnancy, and the study backed this information up. It also found that because lesbian and bisexual girls experience bullying more frequently than their heterosexual peers, it leads to an increased likelihood of teen pregnancy. “Young women who are sexual minorities may view sexual intercourse with men and pregnancy as a way to stay ‘closeted,’” to attempt to prove to others they are straight. Having sex with boys can also serve as a way to punish oneself for not being straight, a form of internalized homophobia.
Other factors that seemed to increase teen pregnancy likelihood of lesbian and bisexual teens becoming parents include being rejected by family members, “developmental milestones and sexual-orientation related stress.” Having involvement in the LGBT community in some capacity, such as school clubs, community centers, and more, actually decreased the likelihood of teen pregnancy.
The report offers a reason why this might be, stating that “activities like LGB social or education events confers social support and may act as a buffer to risk factors.” However, many places in the United States don’t have resources geared towards LGBT youth, especially in rural areas. This leaves teens without the support they need as LGBT individuals. Executive Director of the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) Dr. Eliza Byard says, “[Rural] students are frequently the most isolated – both physically and in terms of access to critical resources and support.”
The results of the study weren’t surprising to researchers. Chairperson for the Committee on Adolescence at the American Academy of Pediatrics, Dr. Cora Breuner, says, “those of us who work in the field weren’t surprised. We were relieved to be right, but disheartened as you can imagine for [young bisexual or lesbian women] struggling to figure out who they are to then have an unintended pregnancy to occur.” She adds that not having the same access to birth control adults may have and poor sex education also factor into pregnancy risk for bisexual and lesbian girls.
A similar study published in 2015 was done on New York City high school students by Lisa Lindley of George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. Lindley says, “The message for me is that these populations are often ignored or assumed to not need information or reproductive care or services and they absolutely do.” That study found that 13 to 14 percent of straight girls had teen pregnancies compared to 23 percent of lesbian and bisexual girls. It also cited that discrimination, stigma, and little support from both family and school also likely contributed to the increased risk of teen pregnancy for bisexual and lesbian girls.
The study published in Pediatrics concluded that sex ed and pregnancy prevention efforts need to factor in bullying and other forms of maltreatment of all teens no matter how they identify their sexual orientation. More research is also needed to dig into how risk factors like bullying and maltreatment are linked and use it for pregnancy prevention, particularly for lesbian and bisexual girls. Brittany Charlton of Harvard Medical School and Boston Children’s Hospital says, “Documenting these disparities is the first step toward reaching health equity. Every one of us can help lessen this burden.” Charlton is absolutely right.