Sex Map Shows Chain of Almost 300 High School Lovers
January 28, 2005
Sociologists at Ohio State University have created the first "map" of teen sexual behavior, outlining a sexual network of 288 one-to-one sexual relationships among high-school students. While the teen at the end of the chain may have had contact with only one person, he or she had indirect contact with 286 others. Even so, despite reputations and popularity, most of the teens were not promiscuous with many others.
"They might know that their partner has a previous partner. But they don't think about the fact that this partner had a previous partner, who had a partner, and so on," said James Moody, the sociologist who led the study. That suggests that youths need a different approach to sexual education and especially STD prevention, said Moody and colleagues.
The study was conducted at a high school in a mid-size town in the US Midwest; the exact location was not disclosed. The team found that just over half the students surveyed had ever had sexual intercourse -- about the same as the average rate for US teens.
"All the evidence from this network suggests that the kids were very aware of the local pattern and local history of sexual activity," said Moody. "They know they are not going to date their ex-boyfriend's girlfriend's partner. That's too close." "It forces people to find new partners instead of recycling," he said, akin to an incest taboo and very different from adult sexual behavior.
While adult-directed STD prevention campaigns target highly active people, the network model suggests that outreach among students must target each and every one.
"The students in this network are not unusual," said Moody. "They are just average students, and not extremely active sexually. So social policies that could help some of them protect themselves from STDs could break a lot of these chains that can lead to the spread of disease." "Anything that limits that and restricts the flow of fluids between people would help," he said, including education about condom use, abstinence and other policies.
In their study, Moody and colleagues used data from the 1995 National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. The team said the study was representative of mid-sized towns, but that urban high school behavior would probably be different. The full study, "Chains of Affection: The Structure of Adolescent Romantic and Sexual Networks," was published in the American Journal of Sociology (2004;110(1):44-91).
01.24.2005; Maggie Fox
This article was provided by U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update. Visit the CDC's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.