Health Risks Among Sexual Minority Youth
Sexual minority youth—those who identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual or who have sexual contact with persons of the same or both sexes—are part of every community and come from all walks of life. They are diverse, representing all races, ethnicities, socioeconomic statuses, and parts of the country.
While many sexual minority youth cope with the transition from childhood to adulthood successfully and become healthy and productive adults, others struggle as a result of challenges such as stigma, discrimination, family disapproval, social rejection, and violence. Sexual minority youth are also at increased risk for certain negative health outcomes. For example, young gay and bisexual males have disproportionately high rates of HIV, syphilis, and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), and adolescent lesbian and bisexual females are more likely to have ever been pregnant than their heterosexual peers.
CDC Report: First National Study
In August 2016, CDC released the first nationally representative study on the health risks of U.S. lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) high school students. To understand more about behaviors that can contribute to negative health outcomes among LGB students, a question to ascertain sexual identity and a question to ascertain sex of sexual contacts was added for the first time to the national and standard Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) questionnaires. These new data offer insight into the health risks of approximately 1.3 million LGB high school students and highlight the need for accelerated action to protect their health and well-being.
CDC analyzed data from the 2015 national survey (conducted among more than 15,000 students in grades 9–12) plus data from 25 state surveys, and 19 large urban school district surveys. The findings are described in a CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, "Sexual Identity, Sex of Sexual Contacts, and Health-related Behaviors Among Students in Grades 9-12—United States and Selected Sites, 2015." The report documents the rates at which LGB students reported experiencing substantially higher levels of physical and sexual violence and bullying than other students.
In the report, sexual minority students were defined as those—
Collecting information about students' sexual identity and about the sex of their sexual contacts is necessary because some students identify themselves as heterosexual but report having sexual contact with only persons of the same sex, whereas some students who identify themselves as gay, lesbian or bisexual have not had sexual contact or have had sexual contact with only persons of the opposite sex. This dissonance is well documented in other research and can be a normal part of the developmental process that occurs during adolescence.
What This Report Shows
This report describes the first nationally representative study of U.S. lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) high school students. It compares the prevalence of 118 health behaviors among sexual minority students to the prevalence of these behaviors among non-sexual minority students. These analyses are possible due to the inclusion of two new questions about sex of sexual contacts and sexual identity on the 2015 National Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS).
The findings from this report show the rates at which LGB high school students experience many health risks, compared with heterosexual students. These health risks are most apparent among students who identify themselves as LGB. Specifically, this report found that compared to their heterosexual peers, LGB students are significantly more likely to report:
While physical and sexual violence and bullying are serious health dangers on their own, a combination of complex factors can place young people at high risk for suicide, depression, addiction, poor academic performance, and other severe consequences. Data demonstrate that LGB students may be at substantial risk for these serious outcomes:
Recommendations From This Report
The majority of lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) students cope with the transition from childhood through adolescence to adulthood successfully and become healthy and productive adults. However, this report documents that LGB students have a higher prevalence of many health risk behaviors compared with heterosexual students. These data highlight the need for collective action to keep these students safe.
Although there are no simple solutions to address the health risks LGB students’ face, research demonstrates the importance of school, community, and family support for LGB youth.
Because many health-related behaviors initiated during adolescence often extend into adulthood, they can potentially have a life-long negative effect on health outcomes, educational attainment, employment, housing, and overall quality of life. Many LGB students, therefore, need coordinated action to meet their needs and improve their health and well-being.
What CDC Is Doing
For lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) students to thrive in their schools and communities, they need to feel socially, emotionally, and physically safe and supported. CDC works with other federal agencies, national nongovernmental organizations, and state and local departments of education, health, and social services to raise awareness about the health risk behaviors and support the health and well-being of LGB students by —
CDC calls for accelerated action to protect the health and well-being of these young people. Coordinated action by schools and communities is needed to protect LGB students and address the health risks they face.
CDC and its partners are taking action by funding, implementing, and evaluating programs that address many of these health risks and supporting the solutions, including violence prevention, developing tools for education partners to promote healthy school environments for all students, forging national partnerships, and providing scientific leadership.
- Page last reviewed: August 11, 2016
- Page last updated: August 11, 2016
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