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Sex Education Fails to Inform Lesbian and Bisexual Girls of STI Risks

Many lesbian and bisexual teenage girls in the United States aren’t aware of their risks of getting a sexually transmitted infection (STI) from sex with other girls — a knowledge gap that persists because sex education typically focuses on abstinence and heterosexual intercourse.

A study of 160 lesbian and bisexual girls ages 14 through 18, conducted through online focus groups facilitated by researchers, found that most teenage girls aren’t aware of devices such as dental dams that protect against STIs. They also don’t understand the need for them.

Previous research has shown that lesbian and bisexual teenage girls have higher rates of pregnancy than heterosexual girls. Some may engage in sex with boys to test their orientation and others may have sex with boys as a way of hiding their identities or as the result of peer pressure, says Professor Margaret Rosario (City College of New York and The Graduate Center, CUNY), who co-authored the study.

“Since they are attracted to the same sex, they think pregnancy and STIs are not going to be issues for them,” Rosario says. “In addition, they’re less likely to protect themselves in situations where they might have sex with a boy.”

Most girls don’t know that physical barrier methods are the only way of protecting against STIs. “That may be condoms, if they’re using sex toys of any kind, but also dental dams,” Rosario says. “They should know that they can also cut up condoms and use them as dental dams.”

Meanwhile, sex education programs fail to inform girls about their risks of getting STIs from having sex with female partners. In addition, sex education that focuses only on intercourse is ineffective for those who have sex with the same sex or engage in nonintercourse activities with the opposite sex. “We need to do a better job for all young people, whether it involves other-sex or same-sex activities, if we really want to substantially reduce the STI rate,” Rosario says.

Beyond SUM

Explore This Work
Why Girls Choose Not to Use Barriers to Prevent Sexually Transmitted Infection During Female-to-Female Sex
Journal of Adolescent Health, 2018

Work By
Margaret Rosario (Professor, Psychology) | Profile

Colleges and Schools
The City College of New York
The Graduate Center

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