August 16, 2013
A new study found that homeless youth who had friends were at lower risk of getting STDs and less likely to participate in high-risk sexual behavior. Researchers studied 258 homeless youth between ages 15 and 24 in San Francisco and found that those who had same-sex contacts with stable housing in their social networks used condoms more frequently and were less likely to take part in sexual activities with intravenous drug users.
"The presence of same-sex friendships and contacts living in stable homes seems to increase condom use," said study senior author Dr. Colette Auerswald, associate adjunct professor of pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). The study also found that homeless female youth were less likely to have female friends or know people with stable housing, but their risk factors improved when they did, especially if they maintained family ties. "Young homeless men seem to name these social network contacts more frequently than do young homeless women. It will be important in future investigations to ask why this happens," Auerswald said.
There is a need to increase mainstream contacts and same-gender friendships, according to lead author Dr. Annie Valente, who conducted the research while a medical student at UCSF. "It also emphasizes how same-gender friendships and family ties may be effective tools in our efforts to improve the health of homeless youth," she said.
The full report "Gender Differences in Sexual Risk and Sexually Transmitted Infections Correlate with Gender Differences in Social Networks Among San Francisco Homeless Youth," was published online in the Journal of Adolescent Health (doi:10.1016/j.jadohealth.2013.05.016).