By Helen Gibson
A new survey shows sexual minority high schoolers are more likely than their heterosexual peers to struggle with a host of issues.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released its biennial Youth Risk Behavior Survey, a survey that asks students at public and private high schools across the nation to answer questions about sexual behavior, substance abuse, violence victimization, and mental health and suicide.
A special section of the report focused on the answers of sexual minority youth—or, those who identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual, as well as those who are unsure of their sexual identity and those who have sexual contact with people of the same or both sexes.
The study found these sexual minority students are significantly more likely to be sexually active, use drugs, become the victims of violence, experience mental health issues, and consider suicide.
A previous study by Barna Groups shows teenagers in Generation Z are at least twice as likely as American adults to identify as LGBT or as atheist. This creates new ministry challenges for the church, says Ben Trueblood, director of student ministry for Lifeway Christian Resources.
He told Christianity Today “it is a new challenge for student ministry leaders, because there is more discussion in the public square regarding LGBT issues.”
“In the past, it was possible for difficult issues like this to be brushed aside or go unaddressed entirely. But that approach cripples the purpose of student ministry,” he told CT. “Now, student ministry leaders are forced to teach what the Bible says on these issues, as well as equip teenagers to respond biblically.”
As church leaders seek to minister to teenagers who may be struggling with their sexual identity, they may want to keep these findings in mind.
More Sexually Active
Of the high schoolers surveyed, those who said they identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual were more likely than their heterosexual peers to report sexual activity. This includes having ever had sex, having four or more sexual partners, and being currently sexually active.
Lesbian, gay, or bisexual students were also less likely to report using a condom, birth control, or both the last time they had intercourse.
More Likely to Report Drug Use
Sexual minority students also reported significantly higher rates of drug and prescription opioid use.
Nearly twice as many lesbian, gay, or bisexual students (23.1 percent) said they’d ever used select illicit drugs, injected illegal drugs, or misused prescription opioids as the percent of heterosexual students (12.3 percent) who said the same.
More Likely to Become the Victims of Violence
The CDC’s categorization of violence victimization includes students who are bullied at school or electronically, as well as students who have been threatened or feel unsafe at school and those who have experienced dating violence or have been forced to have sex.
In each of these categories, students who identify as being lesbian, gay, or bisexual reported experiencing violence at significantly higher rates.
This includes more than 2 in 10 lesbian, gay, or bisexual students (21.9 percent) who said they’ve ever been forced to have sex—a percentage around 4 times higher than the percentage of heterosexual students (5.4 percent) who said the same.
Lesbian, gay, or bisexual students also reported being bullied electronically (27.1 percent) and at school (33 percent) at rates around twice as high as their heterosexual peers (13.3 and 17.1 percent, respectively).
And lesbian, gay, or bisexual students who dated or went out with someone in the past year also reported experiencing physical dating violence (17.2 percent) and sexual dating violence (15.8 percent) at a rate almost three times as high.
More Likely to Struggle with Mental Health and Suicide
“Sexual minority students are also at a greater risk of experiencing mental health issues, including feeling sad or hopeless, seriously considering attempting suicide, making a suicide plan, attempting suicide, and being injured in a suicide attempt,” the report says.
In fact, more than 6 in 10 lesbian, gay, or bisexual students (63 percent) said they’d experienced persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness in the past year; this is more than double the rate of heterosexual students (27.5) who said the same.
Among lesbian, gay, or bisexual students, 47.7 percent said they’d seriously considered suicide in the past year—over 3.5 times the rate of heterosexual students (13.3 percent).
And significantly more lesbian, gay, or bisexual students said they’d made a suicide plan (38 vs. 10.4 percent of heterosexual students), attempted suicide (23 vs. 5.4 percent), or been injured in a suicide attempt (7.5 percent vs. 1.7)
The Impact of These Numbers
The behaviors the CDC asks about in its Youth Risk Behavior Survey each have an impact on the overall health of teenagers, according to the CDC.
In a report summarizing the findings of this survey, the CDC notes that risky behaviors like increased sexual activity, substance abuse, violence, and struggles with mental health and suicide relate to one another.
“Addressed separately, these four focus areas are of concern to public health,” the CDC says in its report. “However, data also indicate that risk behaviors co-occur and that a substantial minority of students have experienced multiple risks across these areas.”
Note: This article compares the responses of heterosexual high schoolers to the responses of lesbian, gay, or bisexual high schoolers. For more information, or to see how these students’ responses compare to others (such as those who say they’re unsure of their sexual identity), view the full report here.
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HELEN GIBSON (@_HelenGibson_) is a freelance writer in Cadiz, Kentucky.