Teen Pregnancy Rates among LGBTQ Youth Might Be Higher Than You Would Expect

Alia Gehr-Seloover

Alia Gehr-Seloover

In working with LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer/Questioning) populations over the years, I’ve noticed that is has been widely assumed that these youth don’t require pregnancy prevention education. In fact, this population is two to seven times more likely than heterosexual youth to be involved in a pregnancy. This is a larger issue when looking at the ways in which LGBTQ youth are treated in their communities. It is also indicative of the types of sexual health education taught in this country throughout many different forums.

With an average of 12-17% of LGBTQ teens involved in a pregnancy, compared to an average of 2-5% of heterosexual teens, the question of why these numbers are so drastically different begs to be asked.

Statistically, LGBTQ young people experience elevated rates of discrimination, with eight of 10 LGBTQ teens stating that they have been harassed or abused as a result of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. Discrimination isn’t just occurring at school–while incidences of family rejection have decreased over the last decade, and more families are accepting of their LGBTQ children, 26% of LGBTQ youth are told to leave home. In fact, according to the 2006 National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Executive Summary, “of the estimated 1.6 million homeless American youth, between 20 and 40 percent identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT).” These types of prejudices lead to higher use of drugs and alcohol, a heightened incidence of depression and suicide, and an increased likelihood of participation in risky sexual behaviors, including survival sex (sex for shelter, food, clothing, etc.).

LGBTQ youth who feel stigmatized may also strive to appear ‘normal’ or ‘heterosexual’, participating in ‘heterosexual sexual activities’ to pass as straight. This becomes an issue when we observe the way sexual health education is presented. In the majority of educational atmospheres, sexual education is focused around heterosexuals, minimizing inclusion of the LGBTQ community, and their need for comprehensive sexual health education. The result is that many LGBTQ identified teens who do participate in ‘heterosexual sexual activities’ may not feel that the sexual health education offered pertains to them, or may not pay attention to the biased education presented.

In my experiences with LGBTQ youth, the one criticism that many voice is that they never received sex education that resonated with them, and in sitting in a classroom they may zone out or stop paying attention. Other youth that I have spent time with have mentioned that while they identify as gay, it isn’t easy to find someone to date–many will go out with people of another sex because they want something to do, or someone to spend time with.

It is important to understand that many LGBTQ adolescents are happy, safe, and feel that they are receiving the education, resources, and access to health materials that they need to thrive. It is also essential that we recognize that for those who don’t feel this way, there are ways that we can work together to change this.

What can we do to help?

  • Educators must work with their schools and districts to include LGBTQ inclusive health education, using terms referring to body parts rather than relationship types and persons involved: penis, vagina, anus, etc., rather than man or woman.
  • Discuss with LGBTQ youth various self-care methods, community resources, and ways in which they can involve themselves with accepting individuals and groups.
  • Parents and teachers need to work together to accept LGBTQ youth. It’s important that they know that they are cared for, and loved no matter what the outside world thinks.
  • It is crucial to educate students in appropriate behaviors; ensuring that efforts to diminish bullying and discrimination are taken seriously and those students who choose to participate in bullying behaviors will face negative repercussions.

What other ways can we ensure that LBGTQ youth are receiving the education, resources, and access to health materials that they need to thrive?

Alia A. Gehr-Seloover is the LGBTQ Health Coordinator, Healthcorps Navigator, at Institute for Family Health.

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